I spent a bit of time today listening to Ms. Sara Houranpay describe the destruction of her family’s restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Her family immigrated to the United States thirty years ago and in a matter of minutes their restaurant was destroyed. It is located in a racially and ethnically diverse neighborhood, and the restaurant has a reputation for welcoming people from every walk of life.
There were no police there to protect them. One patrol car passed by but did not respond to their attempt to get attention. Ms. Houranpay asked one of the looters who walked by, “What are you doing to our city?” to which the young man responded, “I’m not even from here. I drove up from California.”
From the tragic moment that George Floyd was brutally murdered until now, I have been appalled by the lack of civic leadership across the nation. With a few notable exceptions – like Art Acevedo, police chief of Houston, Texas – on the municipal, state, and national level, there have been serious elements of effective leadership missing. In some cases, what has been missing is empathy. In other cases, decisiveness, strength and clarity have been missing. In the place of both a dispiriting passivity has set in, instead.
Americans of every perspective might have briefly tolerated this behavior, assuming that those in positions of authority know something that we don’t know. But it has quickly become clear that there is no piece of information hidden from sight that explains the pattern we see emerging, other than the failing leaders themselves.
- There is nothing that explains why authorities did not immediately pursue charges against all four officers who were accomplices in George Floyd’s murder.
- There is nothing to explain why that information was not made public immediately.
- There is nothing to explain why the law enforcement agencies in most of our major cities did not take immediate action to create a space for peaceful protest and quell rioters who threatened the well-being and safety of the communities where they have been allowed to run free.
- There is nothing to explain why the mayor and police chief of Minneapolis did not immediately visit the community where George Floyd was killed, reporting on the actions that they would take to address Floyd’s murder and the efforts that they would make to insure that it did not happen again.
The word, “ally,” gets bandied about a great deal of late as the key descriptor of leaders who are alert to the needs of others. In some places that word has received careful, helpful definition. However, what is often emphasized is the capacity of allies to confess their own racism and phobia. Is this what explains the diffidence we see around us? Or are our leaders simply testing the direction of the wind in order decide which actions will insure their re-election? It is hard to say.
But whatever the cause, the older definition of an ally as one who shares a common cause needs resurrecting. Passive leaders are not leaders at all.