We as a society must ask ourselves: Is this the America we want to live in? | Menendez

We as a society must ask ourselves: Is this the America we want to live in? | Menendez


By:  Bob Menendez
USA Today Network

Monday night, the world witnessed the horrifying sight and desperate screams of American citizens fleeing for safety as they were chased down, shot with rubber bullets and tear-gassed by police and military acting on orders from the president of the United States.

Never before in my lifetime has a president ordered military force against American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights to peacefully protest. President Donald Trump did it. For a photo op.

At a time when our nation yearns for real leadership and a unifying voice, this president has chosen to incite more violence and inflict further suffering.

The president’s actions were immoral, unconstitutional, unlawful and a sickening, self-serving abuse of power.

A makeshift memorial for George Floyd includes mural cards and flowers near the spot where he died while in police custody in Minneapolis.
A makeshift memorial for George Floyd includes mural cards and flowers near the spot where he died while in police custody in Minneapolis. (Photo: Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY)

This isn’t Castro’s Cuba, Putin’s Russia, Maduro’s Venezuela or communist China where strongmen have routinely used force to quell dissent and stifle a free press. This is the United States of America where dissent is inherent in our country’s DNA, peaceful demonstration revered as patriotic, and a free and independent press sewn into the fabric of our democracy.

George Floyd’s senseless and tragic killing at the hands of police was just the latest in a long line of racial injustices against black Americans. It has galvanized millions across the nation to stand up and peacefully march in protest against systemic racism, inequality and injustice that has plagued our country since its founding, and that communities of color continue to endure today.

Americans are reeling in agony, anger, and frustration. Their pain is real. Their demands for systemic change in our criminal justice system and an end to racial inequality in our society are just. I stand with them in solidarity and recommit to fight for their human rights and dignity. I, too, stand against the few who wish to exploit and undermine this national movement through acts of violence, looting and vandalism.

This is a watershed moment in our nation’s history when we, as a people and as a society, need to ask ourselves if this is the America we want to live in. Is this the America we want our children to live in?

If you’re black or brown living in America today, it is harder for you to vote, see a doctor, get a good education or find affordable housing. If you’re black or brown, you face a criminal justice system that is more likely to send you to jail. If you’re black or brown, you are more likely to live in communities scarred by legacies of neglect and pollution, faced with higher asthma and infant mortality rates, greater exposure to lead paint and shorter life spans.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color. If you’re black or brown, you’re more likely to be an essential worker on the frontlines with increased risk of exposure. If you’re black or brown, you’re more likely to have lost your job or your business. If you’re black or brown in this country, you’re more likely to get sick or die.

And if you are a black or brown American, you have an absolute right to demand that your life be valued the same as others.

This is a moment to transform this tragedy into something that honors Floyd by changing the course of events for generations to come. The American people are demanding real action and Congress must deliver. We must answer the call for community policing and criminal justice reforms that include providing federal funding to expand local police training, developing a national standard for excessive force and creating a national registry for police misconduct. And Congress must address systemic economic, social and environmental injustices once and for all.

We can do this. We must do this. Together, we must finally fulfill the promise of a nation where everyone, regardless of their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or country of origin is afforded the same unalienable rights and treated equally under the law.

Sen. Bob Menendez is New Jersey’s senior United States senator and the nation’s highest-ranking Latino elected official.