Utahns and Americans witnessed last week two minority groups in the midst of major societal change. One is arguing for the ultimate recognition before the U.S. Supreme Court, while others are lashing out at perceived law enforcement injustices. These events impact Utah politically, culturally and socially.
How do the Baltimore riots, and ongoing media coverage of tensions between African-Americans and police officers, affect Utahns?
Pignanelli: “Legislation won't necessarily start a riot. But the right song can make someone pick up a chair.” — Saul Williams
Utahns understand that for every filmed incident of police misconduct, there are thousands of actions (most unrecorded) of courage, compassion, protection and devotion to community made by law enforcement every day. Most of the actions by protesters are reprehensible, but there is substance behind the peaceful objections because persons of color have a higher rate of arrest.
The constant media focus on friction between law enforcement and minorities is impacting deliberations in the Beehive State — as reflected in developing policies for body cameras, detainment and "use of force." High-quality cameras on phones are changing the dynamic. While there are rare instances of problems, all our local cops are under greater scrutiny. Better yet, the public is gaining greater understanding of the pressures police face, and the often awful conduct of citizens is now subject to recording. This is a positive development for society. (Obnoxious teenagers like me who harassed the mall cop will now think twice.)
Webb: Everyone on all sides of this issue seem to agree that the protests and riots aren’t just about police brutality. In reality, less bigotry and injustice exist within police agencies nationwide than ever before. Officers are by no means perfect, but they are more integrated, better trained, and less racially prejudiced.
But real or perceived police brutality seems to be the spark that unleashes long-simmering anger within some inner-city neighborhoods — described by President Obama as, “impoverished … stripped away of opportunity, children born into abject poverty … parents, often because of substance-abuse problems or incarceration … can't do right by their kids … (who are) more likely to end up in jail or dead than go to college.” He decried absent fathers and drug-flooded neighborhoods.
Obama nailed the underlying problems, and he’s right that angry young men are victims of society. But not a racist or uncaring society. Instead, they are victims of 50 years of a liberal, big-government society whose policies have helped create inter-generational poverty, failed schools, welfare dependency, family dysfunction, absent fathers and teenage unwed mothers.
Here’s the question of the century for liberals and conservatives: How do we re-instill in failed neighborhoods the fundamental values of a successful society: honesty, integrity, sexual responsibility, family, marriage, fatherhood, self-discipline, hard work, education and personal responsibility?
Is there more violence and anti-social behavior in the country and in our state? Who is to blame?
Pignanelli: Overexposure to CNN, FoxNews and YouTube compels any viewer to the conclusion that our country is sliding into hostile anarchy. But the facts document the USA is actually less violent than at any other time. We have greater concern for the health and well-being for each other. So there is little blame but loads of credit to hard-working Americans who continue to make this country the economic giant that promotes democracy.
Webb: Every citizen with a cellphone and social media account is now a reporter. That means every act of violence anywhere, anytime, becomes big news. There’s not more violence; it’s just reported more.
When I was a kid in the ’50s and ’60s, it was sort of expected that cops could be rough and tough, that they would crack heads if disobeyed. The fact that every instance of cop misbehavior is now publicized and condemned actually shows we’ve made progress.
The Supreme Court won’t announce its decision on same-sex marriage constitutionality until June. Regardless of the decision, has the nationwide focus on this issue forever altered attitudes?
Pignanelli: Not since prohibition has the nation experienced such a successful national lobbying effort as that conducted by the LGBT community. In less than 10 years, a majority of Americans have altered their opposition to same-sex marriage. Furthermore, an overwhelming number of those under 30 more than just tolerate this change in traditional marriage, they embrace it. Therefore, the worst case for activists is the court does not recognize a constitutional right of marriage, but allows the states to decide. This keeps the issue alive until demography forces the final resolution. Further, the arguments surrounding this issue provide support to nondiscrimination actions such as Utah passed in the last session.
Webb: The legalization of gay marriage is probably inevitable, and it won’t signal the end of the world. But it will be another trickle eroding the foundation of society — husband and wife raising children in a loving home. A lesson of Baltimore is that we must strengthen families and marriages, not send the message that marriage, as practiced for thousands of years, can be altered at what amounts to a moment’s notice in the sweep of history.