These Are the Times that Try Men's Souls - America's Future Foundation

June 11, 2020

CulturePolicy

These Are the Times that Try Men’s Souls

By: Nic Lott

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine once wrote. Today, that statement rings true. America is undergoing a national discussion about race. It is not an easy conversation to have as many have ignored and avoided the discussion.

I grew up in a small town in Mississippi called Taylorsville. Everyone either knows each other or knows your family. As a young kid, I remember hearing the story of a young black man who was murdered several years prior by a white police officer who still at that time served as a policeman: 

“In 1962, Corporal Roman Ducksworth, a military police officer, was asleep on a bus when he arrived home to Taylorsville. William Kelly, a local policeman, struck Ducksworth and ordered him off the bus. Kelly hit Ducksworth again and then shot him. Kelly claimed he shot Ducksworth in self-defense, and he was never prosecuted. Later he sent a message to Ducksworth’s father: ‘If I’d known it was your son I wouldn’t have shot him.’ The father replied, ‘I don’t care whose son it was, you had no business shooting him.’ Ducksworth was buried with full military honors, including a 16-gun salute by an integrated honor guard.”

Corporal Duckworth had served his country and was returning home to his family, but he never made it. Can you imagine fighting for your country and risking your life to defend and protect the liberty of citizens across the globe then returning to your homeland only to be told by Jim Crow that you are a second class citizen, restricted to sitting on the back of the bus, and denied your constitutional right to vote? Decades later you and your descendants would be told you are disrespecting the flag, the American flag you fought and died for, when protesting injustices you have endured since before the war.

It is unconscionable, but that’s the reality that most black Americans faced then. While Jim Crow no longer denies blacks the right to vote, racism is still alive and well. Most white Americans are not familiar with “the talk” that black and brown families have with their children. There are many talks that parents have with their children about life as they grow up, but families of color have a special talk to prepare their kids for a world where they will be judged by the color of their skin, where they will experience racism, and a world where they are more likely to be the victims of police brutality. For parents of color, they know that their children‘s understanding of how to interact with police officers, even while complying fully, could mean life or death.

The recent murders at the hands of bad cops have grabbed the headlines and the attention of White America, but it is not new. This has been happening for decades. Social media and smartphones have equipped the public with tools to document the atrocities. These eye witness accounts have ignited a movement to put an end to the injustices. 

I come from a diverse family. I have family members who have proudly served in law enforcement. Most police officers are good public servants and take their oath to serve and protect seriously. They serve with honor and dignity. I greatly appreciate them and the risk they take every day. Good police officers are also opposed to discrimination and police brutality against anyone. We must keep this in mind as we work to end these tragedies.

In a poll released last week, 76 percent of Americans called racism and discrimination “a big problem” in the United States, a 26 percentage point spike since 2015. In another poll, 57 percent of Americans said police officers were generally more likely to treat black people unfairly than to mistreat white people. It is refreshing to see that our fellow Americans finally acknowledge the problem and are committed to addressing the hatred and violence. 

I welcome the proposals to reform police departments, conduct more trainings, demilitarize police forces, and build more community policing programs. I believe that each community should lead their own efforts at reform. Police officers found guilty of police brutality and/or murder should be held personally accountable for their actions. This should not be a partisan issue. The time has come for America to put an end to these tragic events and further the principles of liberty and justice for all.

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the services of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” – Thomas Paine