Once again, another unarmed Black man was shot by the police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times with his three young children looking on. Ahmaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and the list goes on and on. How many more have to die to convince America that Black Lives do indeed Matter. We have failed to address the systemic racism and inequality that leads to police violence and over-incarceration in communities of color. Those who remain silent and deny the racism that devalues black lives are complicit in this harm.
I am not a religious scholar, just a simple lawyer and a Christian (not without sin). But I know that in religion and in law, there are sins and crimes of omission. In law, a crime of omission occurs when someone fails to act when they have a duty to act. For example, in Arkansas, and in other states, several classes of individuals (e.g., teachers, doctors, social workers, etc.) have a mandatory duty to report child abuse or neglect when observed. Their failure to do so is a crime of omission.
In Christianity, sins of omission are very similar. In the Book of James 4:17, the scripture says:
“[I]f anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. [NIV].
I am not advocating any particular religious view. Other religions and even non-believers may have a different take on these issues, and I respect that. I am only speaking on how I was raised.
As someone who pays attention to legal matters, I believe there is probable cause to believe that President Donald Trump has committed criminal acts both in the Michael Cohen case and in soliciting Russian help during the 2016 election. But this is not about Trump. It’s about the silence and complicity of those who have a duty (moral, if not legal) to speak out when they know it is the right thing to do. Here are some examples.
- Over 180,000 of our citizens have died because of Covid-19 and we have millions unemployed. The evidence is clear that President Trump has mishandled the response by not listening to the experts and not using the power of the office to which he has been entrusted to create a national plan to protect us. Many of our elected leaders have remained silent in the face of President’s Trump negligence (you know who you are). Speaking up may have saved the lives of untold thousands. In watching the Republican National Convention, speakers are referring to the pandemic in the past tense, if at all. Yet the death count continues to rise. Their silence makes them complicit in the deaths of those who otherwise could have been saved.
- Since he took office, President Trump has made more than 20,000 false and misleading statements. Many in the Republican party, including Arkansas’s entire congressional delegation, have been silent in the face of the President’s lies and deception. In so doing, they have normalized his lying and misrepresentation and are giving themselves and others permission to lie as well. If you are a Christian, how can you say that’s okay? Proverbs 19:9 tells us that “[a] false witness will not go unpunished and whoever pours out lies will perish.” [NIV]
- In our country, we have an epidemic of black lives being lost to unjustified police violence. In my career, I have worked in and with law enforcement as an Assistant Attorney General and as the Director of a criminal justice program training students who want to enter the field. From my insider’s perspective, I know that the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary to shine a light on the systemic racism that devalues Black Lives. President Trump, however, refers to the words “Black Lives Matter” as a symbol of hate but does not hold a similar view toward Confederate flags and monuments.
So many of our elected leaders, particularly here in Arkansas, are silent as President Trump creates discord in our country. In Proverbs 6:16-19, the Scripture tells us that:
“There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”
In law enforcement there is a saying – If You See Something – Say Something. Not enough of us are calling this President out. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us: