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How the racial justice movement will decide our next president

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Beth Shafa waves an American flag near the White House on Friday, June 5, 2020, in Washington. City workers and activists painted the words Black Lives Matter in enormous bright yellow letters on the street leading to the White House, a highly visible sign of the District of Columbia’s embrace of a protest movement that has put it at odds with President Donald Trump.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

Like so many of you, George Floyd’s death shocked me like few things have. His horrible death showed us something is wrong is our country because it happens again and again. We realized that we can’t stand by any longer thinking the system will straighten this out. 

His death kindled in me the determination to do what I can to assure African Americans and other people of color truly achieve equal status as citizens of the United States and members of our society. I am analyzing my own attitudes and behavior toward minorities. I have also committed to actively recruit African Americans and other minorities in my circles of influence.

I have heard the “No excuses” message, meaning that from this moment Black Americans will not be fobbed off with a token police reform law or sympathetic speeches. They are saying that they will not rest until they enjoy all the privileges and opportunities of our society, economy and political system. They will take no excuses, nor should they.

The civil rights movement in the 1960s brought sweeping racial equality legislation — the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968. Obstacles to voting like poll taxes, property ownership and literacy requirements were all banned. Redlining by banks that excluded minority areas from eligibility for home loans was barred. Racial discrimination in employment, housing, education, transportation, government programs and public accommodations was forbidden. With such broad legal protections, one could have logically expected that racial discrimination would be overcome.  

But no law can change human hearts. True equality, true racial justice will occur only as each of us banishes from our hearts and minds prejudice, intolerance, stereotypes and discrimination, only as we engage with Black citizens and other minorities in helpful, friendly ways. Each of us must help eradicate racial injustice and discrimination from our businesses, social and charitable institutions, banks, employers, churches, neighborhoods and homes. 

Floyd’s death created a monumental moment. For the most part, America is collectively resolving that now is the time to end racial injustice. This moment galvanized millions of us to declare “No More. This must stop.” Demonstrations and peaceful protests broke out all over America. People get it, and they want things to change. Unfortunately, as with most good things, some extremists soon used violence against other citizens and the police who are charged with maintaining order and attacked and destroyed both private and public property, which risks alienating much of Middle America. 

Which approach will prevail? Will the peaceful, legal but insistent protests of Black citizens and their supporters become the dominant voice for justice? Or will the destructive opportunism of the violent and vicious bear sway? 

Visionary leaders who have fought for great causes against an entrenched status quo, from Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr., understood that their uprising must vindicate their just principles; their cause must be legitimate and seen as such or it would not succeed. They would endure violence, but they would never resort to it. That’s why King and John Lewis and hundreds of others marched peacefully over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on Bloody Sunday. And that’s how they won.

This auspicious battle for racial justice is playing out in the midst of a uniquely acrimonious and partisan presidential campaign. President Donald Trump apparently sees little or no legitimacy in this crusade for racial equity. Clearly not the leader to unite us, he has become the target of much of the rage of racial protesters. 

Based on polls, many have written Trump off in the upcoming election. A talented campaigner, he overcame steep odds and the pundits’ predictions in 2016. He has shrewd political instincts. And while former Vice President Joe Biden has his strengths, he is older and gaffe-prone. There will be many opportunities yet for Biden to lose the election. 

Ironically, this presidential election will probably be settled by how Middle America perceives the Floyd-inspired racial justice movement. If that movement is seen as engaging in unprincipled violence and destruction, Middle America voters may well stifle their sympathies and sit out the 2020 election or vote for Trump in such numbers that he will be reelected. That is what is in the balance right now.

Greg Bell is the former lieutenant governor of Utah and the current president and CEO of the Utah Hospital Association.