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Combatting racism in America

The Israeli paper, Haaretz, reported that Israel had approved construction of some 4,000 units on the West Bank for Israeli settlement. The US State Department condemned the announcement. As University of Michigan Middle-East expert Juan Cole described it, Israel would take “land owned by Palestinian families and bring in squatters from Israel” to settle on their land. Now we learn that Israeli soldiers beat and kicked pall bearers at a reporter’s funeral.

I drafted commentary condemning what happened. And then Payton Gendron killed ten people at a Tops Supermarket in Buffalo. And it’s clear that the racists in this country have been buying racism and murder in all guises filled with made-up conspiracy theories and racial libels. One moment it’s Blacks, the next is Jews, and another moment its Muslims. Actually I was studying that in the 90s and Republicans blocked every effort to investigate the dangerous racism of armed private militias training around the country. Their efforts to block investigation of armed racist groups then and their embrace of racist slander now mean they own it.[1] Patriotic Republicans need to create a new party of patriots which the existing Republican Party is not.

Tut-tut – but what are we going to do about it? Suburbanization and other forms of segregation don’t work – it permitted and even encouraged a reign of intimidation and terror in the formerly segregated South; Israel segregates its Palestinians from its Jews in schools and towns and see how that is solving problems. So what should we do? Take down Trump and all his followers? Then what?

My work has had me focused like a laser on the US Supreme Court? It is a major problem. Yes, but how long will dealing with that take? I’d vote to defund all the expenses that allow it to function like a court – but who’d join me?

Real gun control? We now have an armed population like the places most likely to suffer civil war. In fact the diffusion of guns is one of the stongest indicators of a country about to fall apart.[2] Gendron’s real-time posting of the video of his attack was obviously intended to incite a race war. Some of us have been trying for years to deal with guns. Are we going to hold our breathe?

How about creating liberal militias designed to counteract the armed racist militias? That of course is an invitation to civil war in which the defenders will be blamed for starting it.

Repeal the Second Amendment? The rules for amendments will block that.

National service or restore the draft? That would force people to work together. The military has dealt with integration more effectively than most American institutions. There has long been a movement for national service. It’s hardly clear if it has a political chance but it is one I would wholeheartedly support – it may be the one response that could change our society for the better.

Each and all of those strategies? Racism and prejudice are universal threats. We have to stamp them out all over or be consumed by them.

Here in Albany, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, men and women, gays and straights, Blacks and whites have all prayed together, with each other and for each other’s safety and well-being. That’s as it should be.

[1] Kenneth S. Stern, A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate 128 (Norman: U. Okla. Press, 1997)

[2] Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and the Breakdown of American Politics, 175-77 (New York: NYU Press 2016)

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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