Opinions

Time for leaders to come running

A few days ago, CNN senior producer Christy Ogelsby, a black woman, wrote a heartfelt opinion piece titled, “I need white mamas to come running." When she heard George Floyd call out “Mama” just before he was suffocated to death, it struck a deep chord in her, so she related her lifelong concern for her black son’s safety. She knew it would strike at the heart of all “mamas” and implored all white mamas to step forward and show compassion and leadership.

I learned early from my white mama about the immorality of racism. When I was in first grade at St. Matthews school in Mobile, Alabama, I rode the bus to and from school, along with the rest of the kids from the Air Force base. We had a black bus driver. As one of the younger kids, I got coaxed into calling the bus driver the n-word. Even though I had no clue what I was saying, I followed through for the sake of peer acceptance. The next day, the bus driver handed me a note to give to my mother. She was horrified and made me apologize in front of all the other kids. My white mama knew what was right then, and I know what is right now. I am answering Ms. Ogelsby’s call in the only way I know how — by writing my own note, a column in the same spirit, imploring Sen. Lisa Murkowski to be one of those white mamas who come running.

Back in August 2017, after the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, Sen. Murkowski stood up to the President. She tweeted, “What the President said yesterday was wrong. There is no moral equivalence between those who are inciting hate and division and those who took to the streets to make it clear that those views are unacceptable. Every one of us must stand against hatred, bigotry and violence, in both words and our actions.”

Now, almost three years later with the public murder of George Floyd, Sen. Murkowski posted this statement, “All of us — from local residents and authorities to the President — need to focus on de-escalating the situation in Minneapolis and tackling the issues peaceful protesters are demonstrating about across this country.” Although her statement was accurate, it did not rise to the leadership we need now. For example, when the president tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts," Sen. Murkowski did not declare this time that what the president said was wrong.

This is not too surprising when one considers that since Charlottesville, the Republican Party has sold its political soul to Trumpism. But I believe there is a greater soul that resides within Sen. Murkowski, as she too is the mother of sons. I ask that she first read Ms. Ogelsby’s opinion piece.

Next, I would like to see her speak out again that what the president said is wrong. That it’s wrong to use a civil rights statement invoked by a white police chief cracking down on protests. That it’s wrong to blame “Antifa and the radical left” for this open wound of systemic racism in the policing of our cities.

Most importantly, I would like to see Sen. Murkowski use her leadership position to call for real solutions that address the undercurrent of discrimination. For example, ask the Department of Justice to explore the merits of starting a “pattern or practice of discrimination” investigation under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Another responsive move would be to ask former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush to lead a renewed effort to implement the recommendations of the “Task Force on 21st Century Policing." President Obama created this task force in 2014 as a response to the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of an 18-year-old black man, Michael Brown. In 2016, the task force released an updated report acknowledging that at least nine states and cities in the United States had adopted the task force’s recommendations. However, because there are 18,000 police departments in the United States, some members of the task force, as well as President Obama himself, have expressed frustration with the slow rate at which the Task Force’s recommendations have been adopted. Clearly, there is more work to be done, and now is the time to reinvigorate this effort with bipartisan leadership.

I realize that these leadership moves are best coming from the White House. However, as noted by David Gergen, a White House adviser to four presidents, President Donald Trump has fled his duty. Mr. Gergen notes, “Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama — two Republicans, two Democrats — served as our “Mourners in Chief.” All four bound us together for a few moments, and we remembered who we are and who we can be. Why has our current “Mourner in Chief” gone AWOL? God knows. But his flight from responsibility is yet another sadness among this week’s tragic losses.”

Until November, this “leadership void” can only be filled by Republican senators. After reading Ms. Oglesby’s op-ed, I now realize that the most likely senators would be those “white mamas” not up for re-election. As mothers, they can hear the dying words of George Floyd, and as senators in the majority, they are positioned to right the wrong words and set a course for meaningful action and healing. From one “white mama” to another, I implore Sen. Murkowski to come running.

Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has over 22 years experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She’s been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Douglas.

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