“Moderate Muslims must denounce terrorist attacks!” “Portland Police must denounce police shootings!”
As for me? I hereby denounce denouncing.
It is all getting a bit out of hand. If life imitates art, then these perpetual calls for denouncements seem an awful lot like 1984’s “two minutes hate.” This zeal to be continually outraged is, frankly, exhausting, and doesn’t provide any actual solutions. Further, in order to get news coverage, “shares,” “retweets,” — basically, attention — we ignore individuality in favor of sweeping, media-ready stereotypes that meet preconceived notions.
For example, take the civil disturbance of the “Portland Racial Justice Congress” a few weeks back. Part of their demands included Chief Michael Sauschuck effectively denouncing police shootings other places, shootings to which he was only connected by his choice of profession. This is the Police Department of Portland, Maine, which had just worked cooperatively with another group to constructively make their voices heard about police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota. This is in Maine, where every officer-involved shooting automatically leads to an investigation by the attorney general and where, for decades, every use of deadly force has been found justified.
The Black Lives Matter-affiliated groups have some legitimate concerns about overcriminalization and mass incarceration. But they do a disservice to those grievances when they focus on “getting mad” and calling for denunciations from groups who have done nothing wrong. And their recent allegations of police brutality against protesters seem a bit self-serving, constructed to fit their narrative, yet not corroborated by any of the several media outlets covering their actions or in accord with the Portland PD’s reputation.
Imagine if Augusta police demanded Black Lives Matter denounce the drug dealers arrested in the Wal-Mart parking lot in June. We’d hear accusations of racism and bias — and they would be legitimate. Stereotyping people and calling for action based solely on the color of their skin is just as wrong as stereotyping people based solely on their chosen profession. Or stereotyping based solely on someone’s religion.
Whenever there is a terrorist attack by radical jihadists, you hear calls for every single Muslim to make some sort of denunciation lest they be accused of supporting violence. It is crazy. There are honest, patriotic Muslims throughout this country. Some are like Army Capt. Humayun Khan, the deceased son of a now famous father. Capt. Khan was a Muslim who served his country, deploying to Iraq and serving in an area where ISIS’ predecessor was known to operate.
Had he been alive, he would not have been responsible for the acts of Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter. Mateen pledged himself to ISIS; Khan fought against it. Both were Muslims but could not have been more different. And rather than stereotype them based on some common trait and call for one to denounce the acts of the other, we acknowledge them individually based on what they did. Capt. Khan has rightly earned honor, while Mateen nothing but scorn.
One of the most underappreciated gifts from America’s founders is the abolition of the “corruption of blood,” or attainder. Medieval Europe’s legal system provided that sons could be held responsible for the crimes of their fathers, and their rights and property would be taken by the government. The founders believed this practice unacceptable for their new nation. Instead, individuals would be held to account for their own choices; they wrote this — for families — into the Constitution.
And while it may not be explicitly written, the same principle should apply throughout our society. If a police officer, African-American, or Muslim commits a crime, they should be held responsible. But rather than shouts for “denouncement” of the criminal from groups writ large who have some tenuous connection via a shared trait, let’s find and fix what caused them to do something wrong, whether it’s bias, drug use, or jihadist philosophy. Talk and tweets are cheap.
In short, with life imitating art again, it’s time for a little less talk — denunciations — and a lot more action.