Police brutality and mob violence spring from the same fountain.
The disturbing video of a veteran police officer kneeling on the neck of a subdued suspect and, thereafter, the spreading wave of violence and looting in the name of George Floyd are painful. Yet these things are not surprising.
As one who served as a police officer for over a decade on the street, I would say that if the department approved of the tactic of kneeling on the neck of a man who was handcuffed and on the ground, there are bigger problems in Minneapolis than Derek Chauvin. The failure of the other officers to intervene would suggest this type of brutality is pervasive. That is not to say that there are a lot of bad cops in Minneapolis, it just says they have an administration that tolerates the abuse of power.
The abuse of power, disregard for human life, and the wanton destruction and uncontrolled rage we are witnessing in cities across our country, all flow from a society that is rapidly losing a sense of right and wrong, of transcendent truth. This truth deficit means justice will not be equal because it is determined by the position you hold or the zip code in which you reside.
This loss of a moral consensus is not a new development; what’s happened is that it has reached a crisis point. The foundation of America’s shared morality has been under steady assault for over half a century. Leftists will convulse with disdain and rage at this assertion, but let the mockers mock.
For over 50 years, we’ve systematically removed God from public life, the belief that He holds all people accountable for their actions, and that He has the authority to do so because He is the Creator. He made us and the laws that govern creation. He gave us those laws not to crush our freedom but to place it within wise boundaries.
Freedom does not mean the right to do whatever one wants. It means that we have the power to choose a good path, one with guiderails that lead and protect us. When we tear those guiderails down, chaos ensues. The kind of chaos we’re now seeing, as legitimate protest turns not only to the destruction of businesses and other private property but to the endangerment of human life itself and the wounding of our nation’s soul.
How have we come to a place where human lives are treated with the kind of contempt we saw when a man crying, “I can’t breathe!” was held down for eight minutes? Or when the potential for violence outside the White House became so great that the president of the United States was taken by the Secret Service to a protected location? Could there be a connection between the banishment of God, along with His truth from our schools and the broader culture and the steady devaluing of human life?
In the march to push God from our corporate conscience, we’ve left behind the understanding that life has value not because of what it produces or where it resides, but because of Him in Whose image it was created. Only if we recognize the reality of a God Who is present in human experience and calls us not only to standards of behavior but of heart attitudes and convictions, can we keep from descending into armed enclaves of resentment and fear.
Yet we now mock the idea that a personal Creator is the Author of not only of our rights but our essential dignity, turning the core beliefs of our Founders on their heads. Instead of self-evident truths, we now claim there is no truth except whatever is desired by each individual according to his or her preferences, preferences that can change by the moment.
As a result, episodes of police brutality and burning of cities should come as no surprise; when you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
If there is an upside to any of this, it might be that in the quiet of our hearts we will see that our cultural bankruptcy must be replaced by the richness of the goodness, truth, and beauty of the God Who offers life and hope. It’s my prayer that during this time of growing crises in health, safety, racial discord, and social erosion, millions of us will turn to the One Who alone can bring the healing America urgently needs.
• Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council.