All Americans can agree that George Floyd’s death was ghastly and wrong. The racism that was a root cause of that horrific, dehumanizing act in Minneapolis must be rejected as immoral and un-American. That rejection is one of the things that unites the United States.
Another tenet of our republic is the need to protect life and property. Our democracy can’t survive without respect for law. Indeed, Floyd would be alive today if basic decency and the norms of civilization had been maintained.
These two beliefs – abhorrence of racism and respect for the law – aren’t contradictory. They are, in fact, what make us Americans in many ways. They are fundamental to what we understand to be justice in our country.
That’s why it has been so awful to see demonstrations meant to support the first of these beliefs turn into an abrogation of the second. Agitators have hijacked justified – and entirely legal – expressions of outrage against racism and turned them into violence that has destroyed downtowns across the U.S. in wanton violation of the law.
Even sadder is that this destruction has ruined thousands of local businesses that are the heartbeat of those communities. Small businesses already were hurting. They were desperate to reopen after months of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But now, instead of opening up, too many of them are boarding up. They have gone from quarantine to curfew.
The American economy and, in effect, all of us, are the losers in this terrible turn of events.
President Trump is correct when he says that such criminality must be prevented and punished. Unfortunately, his declaration has been twisted by partisan opponents as an attack on the legitimate protesters rallying against racism and Mr. Floyd’s murder. And that’s a shame.
Everyone – from the political left and the political right – understands that speaking out against the bad behavior of one person should not be used as an excuse for bad behavior by others. Quite the opposite is the American way.
Peaceful and open expressions of opinion – especially against injustices like racism – are what the U.S. was built on. That is our civilized alternative to the anarchy we have seen on our streets. In fact, the right to peacefully assemble and express a point of view – even an anti-government point of view – is one of the things foreigners most admire about America.
So, government needs to enforce the laws that protect free expression and safeguard our citizens from the abusers of that right. In this case, in addition, more than principle is at stake. So are the livelihoods of millions of Americans.
Small businesses have too often been the innocent victims of this lawless violence. Only law enforcement can protect them. That action by authorities is needed to protect our democracy but its doubly important for financial reasons as well.
Small businesses are the drivers of economic growth and job creation. If small businesses don’t restart, our economy will stay mired in the deep recession we’ve all suffered because of COVID-19. The conditions that helped cause the outbursts that have marred our nation’s cities over the past week or so – poverty, inequality and despair – will only get worse. Economic revitalization is absolutely required to begin to heal the nation from the deep wounds of the pandemic.
America survives thanks to acceptance of a dual consensus. As a nation, we have agreed to treat each other humanely and under the guidance of a set of laws that protect us all. During the pandemic, these principles are vital for practical reasons as well. Local businesses need the physical protections that the law provides so we can return to something close to normal and what we all hope will again be prosperity.
Alfredo Ortiz is President & CEO of Job Creators Network.