On Saturday, Americans demonstrated their priorities.
An amazing launch of the first manned rocket in years from Cape Canaveral comes in fourth place in terms of importance to Americans. The economic disaster created by the coronavirus competes with the virus itself for second place as Americans struggle with the conflict: Is our economy more important than our health? Intelligence tells us that our health is more important. But many people having been cooped up in quarantine for the last four to eight weeks.
Americans are an active, energetic people. The quarantine created a tinderbox of people anxious to get out and feel like they are living again. We found out this last week that Americans, true to character, really put politics in first priority, more important than health, economy or space flight, especially when protesting a televised injustice of racial police violence in Minnesota.
Utah is fortunate to have Salt Lake City and County police leaders smart enough to use a brilliant strategy of peacefully allowing protesters to protest as they wanted Saturday while moving the crowd to eventually go home. The protesters who stayed to the end were arrested peacefully. There were 41 arrests. Some protesters were injured, several police officers were injured. Mayor Erin Mendenhall is initiating a review of all police actions. But, importantly, there were no deaths. It was an instance of no police brutality, of which all Utahns can be proud.
As I watched the whole drama on television, it struck me that the basic character of Utahns is one of peace and compassion. Being the home of a major religion has had a good effect on our population.
Having patted the police on the back and complimented Utah character, it is still important to take seriously what protesters were all about. As statistics pile up, we find African Americans and Latinos often at the bottom of the economic ladder and disproportionately filling our jails and prisons. It is easy for some of our leaders to blame the violence on anarchists, people from out of state and extremists. But this is just a ruse to allow us to not feel responsible for our own racism.
There is a strong current of racism that seems to be built into white Americans. The history of slavery in America has long tentacles. The one fellow who wanted to protest the protest Saturday in Salt Lake can only be judged as foolish for bringing a bow and arrow and pointing it at some of the protesters. Protestors jumped him, beating him up. They then flipped his car over and set it on fire.
Those who are white nationalists fail to understand one crucial fact. White people own and run most of the big businesses in America and hold many of the political offices. White people already are the privileged race in America. If this were a race, the white people have already won it. This makes the white nationalist movement absurd.
The deeper problem is that there is much poverty among whites who for one reason or another feel left out of the bounty of being an American. This is a very real problem and fuels President Trump’s base.
What kept being repeated on television Saturday was that the race problem in America can only be solved by changing America’s culture. As life has moved from the race and environmental movements of the 1960s to the acceptance of gay marriage and the anti-gun movements of teenagers (who try not to be shot while attending school) of the 2020s, considerable social and cultural progress has been made.
The undercurrent of racism that we all have must constantly be fought against. White people (of which I am one) must constantly go out of our way to treat others of all races with grace and love (as Christ commands) and civility and kindness (which democracy demands). Changing our culture to eliminate racism means changing our hearts. But it also means being conscious and self-aware of our thoughts, feelings and actions as we interact with other people every day. American values are built around freedom and equality.
As we live, we must constantly think about treating others as equals and what that means.
Gary Leimback, a Salt Lake City native and retired computer technical writer hoping that each generation gets better and better, ever hopeful of a prosperous and kinder America.