Wednesday, August 12, 2015

All Life Matters

The recent anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has been greeted with a fresh round of rioting, and a fresh shooting, with Tyrone Harris critically injured after drawing a gun during the anniversary riots

The headlines swirling around the fracas over Planned Parenthood and it's practice of selling dead fetal organs, ostensibly for medical research, are as gruesome as they are graphic. Coming as they are in the long buildup to the Presidential primary season, those news bits and sound bites compete for our narrow attention spans with a seemingly endless parade of protest movements and moments regarding police violence against African-Americans and minorities, perhaps none quite so troubling as the report that, in July, 2015, no fewer than 5 African American women died while in police custody.

What is to be said about our society, our culture, our civilization when we see headlines such as these almost daily?
How sad it is that there is no great surprise to seeing protesters chanting "black lives matter" at political events, seeking to steal a soup├žon of media attention and focus for their cause. It is sadder still that the twitterverse has co-opted the hashtag "#BlackLivesMatter" with a wide and growing array of similar constructions: "#FetalLivesMatter", "#BlueLivesMatter", "#BabyLivesMatter", "#MilitaryLivesMatter", and "#AllLivesMatter".

Are we truly so coarse, so crass, so desensitized to examples of man's capacity for inhumanity that we must now be reminded constantly that lives matter? Are we so cynical that we must be counseled that the proper reaction for unarmed people dying at the hands of the police is outrage? Does it really require graphic headlines and even more graphic videos and pictures of dead and aborted fetuses to remind us to pause, and reflect, and perhaps pray for the millions of unborn children terminated through abortion, and to pray also for the women making what can only be presumed to be a difficult, gut-wrenching choice with searing emotional implications?

Black lives do matter. There is no moral justification for police approaching someone with suspicion, hostility, and violence merely because they happen to be African American. If a person is unarmed, he or she should not die at the hands of the police, nor should they die while in police custody; we can do better than that, we can be better than that. Regardless of whether there is misconduct or malfeasance by police officers, for any detention to end in death can never be anything but unacceptable. 

Police lives do matter. Theirs is a dangerous and necessary job, and there is no moral justification for targeting them with violence. Without a police force to enforce laws and maintain civil order, anarchy and chaos would prevail on our streets. They are never above the law and are always accountable for their actions under the law, but neither are they beneath the law and bereft of the law's protections.

Military lives do matter. Any man or woman who opts to shoulder a piece of the burden of defending this nation--or any nation--and its interests ought to feel safe within our borders, far removed from the nearest battlefield. There is no moral justification for attacking soldiers when they are anywhere but on the field of battle.

Fetal lives do matter. Some might argue that a fetus, a child still growing within the mother's womb, is technically an appendage of the woman rather than a whole person, and that it is the mother's right to terminate a pregnancy if she so chooses. However, none can deny that every fetus, left alone and permitted to gestate fully, will be born a human being, endowed with all the inalienable rights and inherent dignity that our society claims is the divine right of every person. There is no moral justification for considering a fetus as mere "garbage", and medical waste, to be discarded with nary a second thought, or "recycled" for putative benefit to medical researchers. No matter one's stance on abortion, the aborted fetus is a potential life unrealized, and to pretend that our society is not in some way diminished when this potential is denied us is not supportable.

Even animal lives do matter. At first reading, the headline that medical researchers seek to grow the organs and tissues harvested from aborted fetuses and thus alleviate several organ transplantation shortages in this country seems a small, almost trivial dimension to the ongoing saga of Planned Parenthood selling those dead fetal organs. Yet that would ignore the long and dramatic history of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, whose primary focus is to end cruel and inhumane practices of using animals for medical research, subjecting these inarticulate yet still sentient beings to experiments and procedures that would be considered crimes against humanity were they performed on humans. There is no moral justification for blithely blundering ahead with such research, glorifying all that science can do without pausing to consider if there are limits to what science should do. Literary masterpieces such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and H. G. Well's The Island of Dr. Moreau remind us still that science untrammeled by conscience is ultimately monstrous and barbaric.

I do not claim to know how to solve the injustices of police violence. I do not pretend to grasp the rage African Americans feel when the police abuse their authority and the trust we necessarily grant them. I will not pretend to comprehend all the emotional and ethical dimensions surrounding abortion. I am but a single man, with finite wisdom and understanding.

Yet even within my finite understanding of the universe around us, I understand that wisdom necessarily begins with the sanctity of life. I understand that every death is a subtraction, just as every birth is an addition, and to dismiss either the subtraction or the addition as so much dross, a thing unworthy of even a moment's acknowledgment, is a small, subtle, sublime subtraction from my own humanity. I understand that the words of Thomas Jefferson still ring true even today, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I understand the ring of truth echoes also in Dr. Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," when he reminded the world that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." I understand that police brutality and unpunished crime both threaten the very existence of civilized society.

I understand that, as President John F. Kennedy said so poignantly a half-century ago: "Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.

I understand that life matters--that all life matters. 

The madness and chaos I see in the news every day of late--that I do not understand. Not at all.