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Op-ed: Working toward more perfect union

According to Gallup polling in 2019, Americans had either a great deal of or quite a lot of confidence in church or organized religion (36 percent), the Supreme Court (38 percent), Congress (11 percent), organized labor (29 percent), big business (23 percent), public schools (29 percent), newspapers (23 percent), the military (73 percent), the presidency (38 percent), the medical system (36 percent), television news (18 percent) and the police (53 percent).

The Washington Post’s Police Shooting database indicates that in 2019 a total of 55 unarmed citizens were shot and killed by police. Of those, 25 were white, 14 were black, 11 were Hispanic and 5 were other. If we look at the data regardless of reason, 1,003 American citizens were killed by police in 2019. Of those, 405 were white, 250 were black, 163 were Hispanic, and 185 were either other or unknown.

I am no statistician, but the easy math means that 0.0000012 of the 2019 American population (328 million) was white and killed by the police, 0.00000076 of the population was black and killed by the police, and 0.0000005 of the population was Hispanic and killed by the police. Without taking into account the racial makeup of our population, in absolute numbers, the chances of an American citizen being killed by the police are infinitesimally small (0.0000031).

By contrast, a study published by Johns Hopkins in 2018 estimated that more than 250,000 people in the United States die every year because of medical mistakes. This means that 0.00076 of the entire U.S. population is killed each year from a medical mistake. By this admittedly simple math, you are 250 times as likely to die from a medical mistake in America as you are to be killed by a police officer regardless of the type of interaction you are having (armed, unarmed, etc.). Going further, you are 4,545 times as likely to be killed by a medical mistake as you are to be unarmed and killed by the police.

Where is the outrage at the medical community? Where is the demand to defund doctors and hospitals? There is none because we need hospitals and doctors. There is none because we realize that we are all human and humans make mistakes. Where mistakes are made, we should do our best to determine cause and implement corrective action. Where malicious intent is present, prosecution is paramount to retaining confidence in the service delivered.

Where laws are broken, whether by a policeman, accountant, politician, medical professional or student, consequences are necessary to encourage society’s safety and security. People come to the United States of America in droves because of its foundation in law and order, not in spite of it.

The point is that the police do a wonderful job. They are second only to the military in their approval as an American institution. Most interactions between police and a citizen occur during the worst part of that citizen’s day. But when we call, they come. Many times, the police are met with disinterest, anger, sadness, danger, and/or emotional distress. In the vast majority of interactions, they perform their duties with honor and distinction. When we find ourselves in danger, they are there to protect us. They are brave and heroic. It is a thankless profession much of the time.

Do racists exist within police forces? Undoubtedly. Do racists work at your bank? Most likely. Are there racists walking around the mall today? Probably. Racism exists in every nation, in every culture, and in every institution where a racist person participates.

America is not racist.

The police are not racist.

Systems are not racist.

People are racist.

We fought a war to remove racism from our national economy and collective society. We strive every day to have more fair laws and more fair systems. Racism exists in the heart and we should strive every day to change those hearts.

We should have rational and reasonable conversations regarding how education, economic opportunity, credit availability, and government intrusion adversely affect our most vulnerable communities. We should all hope and demand that hard work and ambition will lead each citizen to their American Dream based on the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

We, as a nation, are not perfect. There are many ways to constructively reform our society. The media could be more truthful. Politicians could be more caring of the citizens they serve. The medical community could be more affordable and accessible. The education system could be more successful in preparing our children for the real world. All Americans could be more open and accepting of cultures different from their own. And the way we police could always be better.

I am proud to be an American and believe with all my heart that I live in the greatest nation on the face of the earth. I will proudly fly the American flag. I will proudly stand for the national anthem. And I proudly believe that we as a nation are always working toward that more perfect union.

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Sean P. Keefe is a Vienna resident.

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