New Congress quick to focus on abortion

Planned Parenthood is doubling down.

Last Wednesday, a Select Investigative Panel in the U.S. House of Representatives released a report accusing Planned Parenthood of serious abuses and possible criminal violations in transactions between abortion businesses and fetal tissue harvesters. This came after months of hearings and investigations into a series of undercover videos showed abortion clinic workers in different parts of the country discussing ‘fetal product sales’ and the value of different baby body parts, especially if obtained intact after an abortion.

Congress started this investigation months ago and with the election year frenzy, it was probably forgotten by anyone not somehow involved with a vested interest. But it’s a whopper (full report here), finding a range of abuses in a number of clinics across the country. That same day, the Charlotte Lozier Institute and Alliance Defending Freedom issued this report on waste, abuse and potential fraud by Planned Parenthood affiliates and other abortion providers in billing for Medicaid reimbursement.

The next day, Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced essentially the defunding of Planned Parenthood and reallocation of those funds to federally qualified comprehensive community health centers for women. Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser responded quickly.

“Planned Parenthood is America’s largest abortion provider, performing over 300,000 abortions per year. Today’s commitment by Speaker Ryan to re-direct the abortion giant’s taxpayer funding to community health centers is a victory for women’s health care. Community health centers provide far more services than Planned Parenthood and outnumber them 20 to 1 nationwide…

“Polling in 2018 Senate battleground states shows that voters support re-directing Planned Parenthood’s funding to community health centers. Vulnerable pro-abortion Democratic Senators need to do a serious gut check, especially following the 2016 election outcome, and decide if they will stand with their constituents and women’s health care or continue to funnel money to big abortion.”

President-elect Trump has made key, distinct promises to the pro-life coalition of advisers he assembled and consulted over the final months of the presidential campaign, and in their messages of thanks and congratulations after his victory, they assured him and their nationwide followers that they look forward to seeing him follow through on those promises. Some of his top aides are pro-life, and his party platform was built partially on pro-life planks.

After the the House Select Panel issued its report last week and then Speaker Ryan announced the intent to redirect federal funds to community health centers for women, Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins was my guest on radio to talk about these and other developments in the lead up to the Inauguration and the March for Life DC just days later, which grows larger and younger and more exuberant every year. She said Planned Parenthood is on a major new, urgent campaign to raise funds and build support, and the abortion giant is taking its appeal to every social media platform and major media outlet where they can reach the most people to convince them of the importance of Planned Parenthood’s work and necessity.

It’s a battle for hearts and minds, with directly competing narratives. We will be talking and hearing a lot about abortion, and we should, for everyone’s sake. This will be a very big year for the test of scrutiny.

Election 2016, one week out

How to summarize?

This unprecedented election cycle stretches back as far as the Clinton Administration era, ran throughout the Obama Administration era, continues the thread that Hillary Clinton wove through both, and got entangled with the new threads of an outside the Beltway, outside politics, unlikely wild card that Donald Trump proved to be, and it all has defied the odds and conventional wisdom to land us in this strange situation of facing an election for president between two very flawed and distasteful, disrespectful, unethical and unlikable candidates.

We, the people, could have done much better. And we’re to blame for arriving at this point with these two candidates at the top of their tickets. ‘Politics are downstream of culture’ we hear often, and it’s true. We make the culture, or buy into it willingly and without giving it proper thought. So those who do the social engineering of marketing ideas and working ideologies into entertainment media and news media and politics gain ground when citizens come to accept the ‘mission creep’ of ideas spread in attractive packaging and sold through socially appealing marketing, and all sorts of changes have happened to our nation and its institutions and laws. So now the landscape is scary to a lot of people and hostile to others, or some of both to most people.

The next week has utmost importance for America and the world. I’ve been watching and covering on radio what’s most helpful for voters, and the watching world beyond, and hope to bring light to that in these days leading up to the day of decision. It’s not just the US presidency at stake, though that’s most important. The Senate and House seats in Congress are pivotal in the decisions that will continue on into the years ahead, some with ramifications for generations.

Meanwhile, an interview I did Monday on my book, for a television news webcast program, recalled the timelessness of first principles and the truths the founding documents of this nation established. Which are more or less summarized here.

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” – George Washington…

“Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.” – Abraham Lincoln…

We have such a rich heritage both in the Church and in our nation’s founding documents, among other historic and timeless teachings. But people, generations, will forget if they are not taught or reminded, and truths will be eradicated from our collective memory if we don’t hand down our narrative of inheritance. George Washington is widely beloved, as is Abraham Lincoln. But ask people why and they may be hard pressed to cite what these early presidents represented in their personal beliefs, lived in their personal character, and stood for in their political battles to carry out their understanding of natural law and moral order. To “get” Washington or Lincoln, you have to get them right, and in full….

People need heroes. The world needs the bright lights of those who spared nothing and braved anything to stand in the gap for their brothers and sisters anywhere who were marginalized, oppressed, mistreated, abused, and dehumanized. William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and…Fr. Richard John Neuhaus are standouts among many others inspired by them who worked tirelessly and unceasingly for human rights for every single human being who exists, and those who will in future generations. History books and museums and legendary narratives record the great heroes of history who made a difference in civilization, thankfully. We owe a debt of honor and gratitude to them all — but also the duty to carry the mantle they handed down to those who come after and are inspired by the cause of protecting, defending, and advancing human dignity and rights. Many of the benefits recognized by law that we inherit and enjoy today are the result of their life’s work.

It’s what’s at stake now. We are up to the task of making clear the truths of human dignity and human rights to our neighbors, communities, larger public and sphere of influence. We just need to call upon our courage.

Trump, Clinton after Catholics

He pledged reform. Her campaign planned revolt.

For half of this election year, ‘the Catholic vote’ got virtually no mention or attention in media coverage of the campaigns, while the Evangelical vote got plenty. Just before the summer conventions, Hillary Clinton named Tim Kaine as her running mate for VP, and the press featured his Catholicism in a usually laudatory light, even casting him as a ‘Pope Francis’ Catholic without understanding what that even means, and how wrong that portrayal is considering his willingness to support abortion, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment protections against taxpayer funding of abortion, and same sex marriage law which he celebrated. He said he believed his church would change its teaching on that, in time.

And then there’s his life changing mission trip to Honduras, and involvement in liberation theology there,

an explicitly Marxist political ideology cloaked in Catholic teaching that was planted in South America for the purpose of stirring up the poor to violence against their government.

At the time, this was a theology radically at odds with the Church and condemned by the Vatican, Pope John Paul II, and political leaders in the United States. The Marxist elements of the theology are still condemned by the Church today, including Pope Francis.

So the new prominence Catholicism gained in the elections by late summer was colored by Tim Kaine’s practices and stated beliefs. And ‘the Catholic vote’ suddenly became a focus for media and campaigns.

Recently, Donald Trump sent Catholic Vote president Brian Burch a letter promising to protect religious freedom, conscience protection and the rights of Catholics. Within two days, Catholic Vote issued a statement after a 2005 video was released with what Burch called “disgusting and simply indefensible” comments. He said what needed to be said at that moment.

Then came another. The first of the Wikileaks revelations of emails exchanged within the Clinton campaign at the highest levels revealing a deep disrespect for Catholics and the teachings of the Catholic Church, and ideas to back dissident Catholic groups that would agitate for a change in Church teachings. Those emails revealed insulting language and therefore, attitudes, about Catholics, as well as Latinos, showing a deep disregard for the people and their faith, and instead reflecting a strategy of seeing them as identity groups to be dealt with in politics.

HotAir.com pointed out the ‘silliness’ of calling the Church’s teaching a ‘middle-ages dictatorship’ and the call for a ‘Catholic Spring’ highly insulting. Crux noted that those emails were seen as hostile and mocking.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found a teaching moment in this unprecedented assault on Catholics from within the political hierarchy to issue a statement.

And scholars like Princeton Professor Robert George published opinion pieces like this, casting this moment in our political culture and history in a clarifying light.

…I can’t say I’m surprised by the noxious anti-Catholic bigotry contained in emails exchanged between leading progressives, Democrats and Hillary Clinton operatives. These WikiLeaks-published emails confirm what has been evident for years. Many elites, having embraced secular progressivism as not merely a political view but a religion, loathe traditional faiths that refuse to yield to its dogmas.

The election is just weeks away, and people of faith – already caught in a quagmire for so many months over the choices for president – are deliberating deeply over this extremely pivotal moment in our history. They are anxious and worried and wondering who to trust and what to do.

Somewhere in all these years, we largely have lost the ability to trust ourselves, our understanding of truth and justice, honor and virtue, and leadership. It won’t be a ‘top down’ answer that will save the Republic in some magical turn of events. It’s time to find the courage within our own ability to shape the future, within our families, our communities, our most local networks of influence.

People in alleged ‘power’ do not define us and cannot subvert what we stand for or believe, what ‘hill we would be ready to die on’ as some put it, to fire the imagination. We will decide ourselves.

Candidates, issues, debates, media and voters

It’s not as complicated as it’s made out to be.

How the U.S. presidential election came down to two distasteful candidates in the end is a matter for historians. But it’s now a decision between what scholar Hardley Arkes calls “a matter of a wild card versus a brutal sure thing”, with many dividing issues but a singular and essential defining one that matters the most in grounding all others.

Clinton is staunchly pro-abortion. Trump identifies as pro-life, has made promises to defend life at all stages regarding legislation and name pro-life judges regarding law, and has named a pro-life coalition of advisers to assist his trajectory to what he hopes is the position to turn promises into protections. That hasn’t convinced a lot of conservatives. And commentators in media, if not outright hostile to Trump and defensive of Clinton, at the very least have the almost universal tendency to express their anti-Trump bona fides before saying, essentially, ‘but let’s give him a look, a chance, a listen.’ If they even get to that point.

That first presidential debate last week was a disaster, just about wrapping up now in its week long play in prime time media and late night comedy for its wince-worthy moments. But even that aside, Arkes says this about the longer term race and consequences at stake.

My friends who are concerned about national security worry about the temperament of Donald Trump. But what is it that the national defense is supposed to “secure”?

…if our main interest lies in protecting the lives of our people, why do the mavens on national security show no concern for the 1.2 million innocent human lives taken each year in abortion? Does it matter that 177 Democrats voted against the bill to punish surgeons who kill babies who survive abortions? The Democratic position, led by President Obama, is that the right to abortion is not confined to pregnancy; it entails nothing less than the right to kill a child born alive. That is the position that Hillary Clinton should be called upon to defend right now. Have we suffered such an erosion of sensibility as a people that this killing of children born alive is no longer worth noticing?

Important question to consider and answer. When will Clinton be asked about the right to live, before talking about what a good and just and respected life requires? Nobody in media is asking her.

Will it come up in the vice-presidential debates Tuesday night? Doubtful. Big media coverage of Democratic VP candidate Tim Kaine has focused on his resume, and featured his Catholic commitment to social justice and his life-changing mission work in Honduras earlier in life.

But here’s what the media aren’t reporting.

During his stay in Honduras, Kaine openly embraced liberation theology, a controversial political ideology cloaked in Catholic teaching, but radically at odds with the Catholic Church and with the United States. At the time, this extremist ideology was adopted by activists and even some clergy who were openly hostile to the Church, the Pope, and the United States. The Marxist elements of this ideology were condemned by the Vatican in the 1980’s and 1990’s. During his time in Latin America, Kaine was surrounded by radicals and their influences took root in the version of Christianity he adopted. According to the New York Times, it was this theology that set him on a “left veering career path” influencing his politics to the present day.

Although the Marxist roots of liberation theology were condemned by the Church, the new theology did have the support of another superpower – the Soviet Union. Scholars of the period, and the top Cold War defector to the West, have shown the Soviets created liberation theology to undermine the Church and advance the Soviet cause against the United States. In Honduras, the phony Marxist-tinged theology was planted to manipulate poor Catholics, instigate terrorism, and stir up a violent revolution in Honduras — then the key ally of the United States opposing Communism in the region.

Will the debate between the vice-presidential candidates draw much attention from voters, especially those drawn by Kaine’s Catholic identity? Media will try to frame that as much as anything. But it’s important to know. And it’s out there to learn.

I’ll be covering these issues on Tuesday’s radio program, trying to get to the heart of the matter.

Under Catholic name, group launches abortion ad campaign

‘Catholics for Choice’ isn’t Catholic.

This is not a group to which I would normally give time or attention under most circumstances. But on Monday, they launched an election season ad campaign in newspapers around the country that could further confuse people who don’t already know or understand what the Catholic Church teaches on issues of utmost importance not only in elections, but in our common life as a nation.

In Monday’s Chicago Tribune, page five carried a full-page, color, paid advertisement with the large print heading ‘Abortion In Good Faith’ over the full page photo of a woman, superimposed by a quote attributed to her. It read: “I know firsthand that today’s elected officials need to hear your voice so they do the right thing, ensuring that women who are not well off are not financially burdened by the choices they make.” Under her name, she was identified as “Former Illinois legislator, mother of four and grandmother of eight, Catholic” from “Vernon Hills, IL”, a suburb of Chicago.

At the bottom of that attention-grabbing advertisement, a red banner carried this message: “Public funding for abortion is a Catholic social justice value.” And in a side corner and lighter font, it designated Catholics for Choice as the sponsor.

I don’t cite Wikipedia as a source or reference in writing, but in this case it’s sufficient to reveal three bishops’ organizations on the North American continent that have “unequivocally rejected and publicly denounced CFC’s identification as a Catholic organization”.

This is a new push by an old organization in a very consequential election with one candidate and political party standing so fully and forcefully on a platform of abortion ‘rights’, they extend it to the promise of repealing the longstanding, bipartisan Hyde Amendment that protects taxpayers’ funds from providing for abortions.

Plenty of media and Catholics in the pews have appropriated Pope Francis’ gestures and words taken out of context to approve of choices he never has nor could condone.

Like abortion, which he’s been asked about again and again.

“Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil,”…

“It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned,” he said.

But it remains a major political issue, and with the election under 60 days away, this new campaign shows how tenuous the Catholic understanding of even this social moral issue can be.

I brought this up on radio Monday with Catholic scholar George Weigel, one of the top American public intellectuals, social commentators and Vatican experts. During that conversation, a listener wrote me saying that her Miami newspaper carried a similar full page ad. Then a caller reported that her Minnesota newspaper also carried the ad, and she was thankful for the coverage and badly needed clarity.

Whatever ‘the Catholic vote’ is, no matter how divided it is, it’s obviously seen as important and ‘in play’ in the election. Tuesday, I will cover that with the president of CatholicVote.org.

Yes, “today’s elected officials need to hear your voice so they do the right thing” alright.

One guiding principle for voting

Don’t vote for pro-abortion politicians.

The choice should be clear and uncomplicated.

Nearly all of this election cycle has been almost historically unclear and terribly complicated. There are few certainties, and then campaign rhetoric and media spin can cast doubt even about those.

But one thing that is, was brought up at a major annual convention recently, got distorted in reporting by some media, and then clarified by an astute journalist of the highest integrity, and it all came down to one simple, concise message: Not voting for ‘pro-choice’ candidates is the least we can do.

Catholics and other Christians have helped get the country into the abortion divide for more than fifty years. Time to change that grave mistake.

How grave?

Carl Anderson (a true leader in an age with a dearth of them) Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus (an outstanding organization by any objective standard) addressed their annual convention in Toronto just over a week ago. Journalist Kathryn Jean Lopez was there, not planning to write about it, but taking notes as always. Talking with me on radio this Monday about events lately, the Knights’ involvement in international relief efforts in humanitarian crises, always protecting and defending human life and dignity, Kathryn said she saw Anderson’s brief remarks about moral responsibility in the political process distorted by some media into something he didn’t say, and decided to write about it after all. I’m so glad she did.

What this article says is so clear and concise and necessary.

Repeating something he said eight years ago, Anderson told those gathered: “The right to abortion is not just another political issue; it is in reality a legal regime that has resulted in more than 40 million deaths.” To his Toronto audience, he pointed out: “Forty million is greater than the entire population of Canada.” He asked: “What political issue could possibly outweigh this human devastation? The answer, of course, is that there is none.”

Kathryn told me that Carl Anderson went back to an address he gave two election cycles ago, in 2008, and delivered “non-partisan, uncontroversial” remarks to this gathering at this time in our history, because they applied in a timeless way. He named no candidate, no party, gave no endorsements or voting preferences other than that message about voting for candidates for office who would uphold the right of every human being to have a life in the first place, which then could be welcomed, sheltered, cared for, all the provisions the social gospel calls for as every believing Christian is called to know and to carry out.

If you won’t guarantee a human life has the right to continue to exist, you cannot make a coherent argument that any goods or rights or provisions should or must, in the name of justice, be provided human life. It’s really that simple.

As Anderson says, there is a poison in our polity. Pluralism has encountered something grave, something that for more than four decades we have allowed to become a hidden background story, as we refer to it with euphemisms and hardened activism. What we need is the truth we can see on a sonogram — along with tender mercy, especially for those who have suffered because of the mainstreaming of abortion as a faux symbol of health care and freedom, even to the point of instituting government mandates in health-insurance coverage to make us believe these things.

She expanded on theses points again on Crux.

Anderson said abortion must be a priority. He didn’t say it’s the only thing we need to care about, but he did say that when assessing a candidate it ought to be a showstopper and a game-changer, and he’s completely right.

A point worth making is that Anderson was not speaking in the context of an academic theological debate. He was making an argument for a new, non-partisan political strategy, which is that we can change policy by withholding our vote from any candidate, of any party, who supports abortion.

Anderson sees that voting for pro-abortion politicians for other reasons has not brought them closer to a moral position, or even the pro-restriction position that polling shows is held by 8 in 10 Americans. His point was that at a time when America’s fundamental moral direction seems up for grabs, encouraging a pro-abortion candidate, for whatever reason, is not a wise prudential choice.

That’s all the more so as another Catholic vice-presidential candidate wraps himself in the flag of Pope Francis. Yet Francis, as it happens, is also against abortion.

This is not complicated, and should not be easily distorted or spun.

If there’s any breaking news in Anderson’s remarks, it is that we remain stuck in an unnecessary divide. This election is an opportunity for Catholics, for other Christians and religious believers, and all people of good will.

Don’t be party people. Be a people of life.

Talking about politics and practical front-line work, Anderson said to his brother Knights of Columbus: “Every time we save a life, we change the course of history.”

Presidential politics: party platforms, conventions, candidates and veeps

Who are they, and where do they stand?

In the course of the past week, we saw the entire Republican convention play out with the formal nomination of Donald Trump and his acceptance speech laying out his vision and plans if elected. And we’re about to see the Democratic convention unfold, as Hilary Clinton is officially nominated candidate and formally accepts on the final night. These are historic events, we’ve often been reminded in this election cycle. But while there’s a certain ‘first ever’ historic nature in the two candidates, the reality of their party platforms and their individual visions for America—what, at the end of the day, they actually stand for and they would actually do in the Oval Office—is what America must (or should) consider now that we’ve heard Trump and prepare to hear Clinton.

In the course of the last week, we also learned the running-mates of the two candidates. While neither Trump nor Clinton are, or ever were Catholic, the two running-mates have significant connections to the Catholic Church. Trump V.P. pick Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana, was raised as a Catholic, but is  now a devout Evangelical Christian. Clinton choice Tim Kaine, U.S. Senator from Virginia, is a Catholic who worked as a missionary with the Jesuits in Latin America and, according to his Pastor, still actively practices the faith.

However, it’s only on the actual position of a person—what they espouse and what they promise to do—that American citizens can make a choice. And while the Democratic ticket has the only Catholic in the race, and the Republic ticket has been called the most “anti-Catholic” in recent history (especially given Trump’s verbal spat with Pope Francis over his trademark promise to build a Wall, a promise the candidate repeated in his recent keynote speech at the Republic Convention), when it comes to life issues across the spectrum—from the womb to natural death—the platforms could not be more different.

The Democrats’ has never been more pro-abortion, (USA Today claims ‘anti-abortion’ Democrats are outraged over it) and the Republicans’ has never been more pro-life.

Divisions are clear in this particular election year. None, perhaps, more clearly so than here.

Police shootings: ‘A bad movie on an endless loop’

In the words of a trauma surgeon on the triage and treatment of officers hit by a gunman in Dallas.

And Dallas was the first of three nearly back to back police targeted assassinations in the past week. It describes yet another national nightmare.

Adding to what Barbara Kay reports well here, I have to commend Dallas police chief David Brown for telling the press and the world that he believes officers in his city and nationwide are under too much strain. It deserves more focus of attention.

“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Brown said at a briefing Monday. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. … Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. … That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

As Brown spoke in Dallas, five officers had been killed, nine others injured from the gunfire.

Brown said he and other officers were frustrated by what police are being forced to do while lawmakers fail to seek solutions to the country’s violence…

He also said that if he were confronted with the same perceived problems that have prompted demonstrations across the country, “I probably wouldn’t protest or complain. I’d get involved and do something about it, by becoming part of the solution.”

Brown later leveled a direct challenge to demonstrators: “We’re hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in.”

Over these tremendously difficult days, I watched and heard Gregory Thomas, President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives on CNN and asked him to be my guest on radio. Our brief conversation was helpful in explaining what community policing is, and our role in it. Homeland Security has the well known and well worn saying ‘when you see something, say something.’ Too many people don’t, maybe mostly because of fear or political correctness. But after so many terrorist attacks, DHS has repeated lately that they certainly want us to, and police do as well. If we see suspicious characters and activity, or worse, and say nothing, we’re part of the problem.

We own this if we don’t speak up and don’t engage in community awareness and involvement. The officer patrolling your neighborhood represents the entire police force to you, just as the citizens he or she encounters there represent your community to the police force. Our failed community structures, broken families, and fatherless homes, leave the police strained with more of the consequences of social dysfunction and personal actions unmoored from choices taught with moral authority in the home and in churches. Black pastors have told this story for decades, more so in the past several years.

In the past several days, we’ve been rocked by targeted police assassinations, another one on Tuesday in Kansas City, Kansas. “Right now we just need to be in prayer”, for the officer’s family and the police department, said Mayor Mark Holland. “Not only in this department but everywhere in our country. And prayer for our communities. Our communities are broken right now. “My encouragement is we not go down a path of fear and conclusions and hatred, but we go down a path of thoughtful, prayerful reflection about what we can all do to make our communities safer.”

Something I wrote here after the Ferguson events came back to me while hearing authorities respond to these shootings of the past week.

Dr. Ben Carson said that what changed him from an angry and aggressive young man was that his mother made him read books, and he read about people of accomplishment. “What I came to understand is that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you in life, it’s you. It’s not the environment and it’s not somebody else. […] we must re-instill the can-do attitude in America not the ‘what can you do for me’ what ‘have you done for me’ attitude,” Carson said.

He challenged Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton to declare, calmly, what solution they’re looking for, what they want to happen.

…Sharpton changed course to address his black listeners directly. “We’ve got to be straight up in our community, too,” he said. “We have to be outraged at a 9-year-old girl killed in Chicago. We have got to be outraged by our disrespect for each other, our disregard for each other, our killing and shooting and running around gun-toting each other, so that they’re justified in trying to come at us because some of us act like the definition of blackness is how low you can go.”

“Blackness has never been about being a gangster or a thug,” Sharpton continued. “Blackness was, no matter how low we was pushed down, we rose up anyhow.”

Sharpton went on to describe blacks working to overcome discrimination, to build black colleges, to establish black churches, to succeed in life. “We never surrendered,” Sharpton said. “We never gave up. And now we get to the 21st century, we get to where we’ve got some positions of power.

Many are in the role of Police Chief.

This poignant account by Dallas Police chief David Brown has a power unto itself, and ended with this account of yet another funeral.

In front of the lectern sat families of the dead. Several wrapped their arms around young children and others swallowed back tears as emotional tributes were delivered by fellow police officers.

“My partner goes home before I do,” said Jaime Castro, the partner of Lorne Ahrens. “I know you’re listening, brother. And I want you to know that I was there outside the window by your side to see you take your final breath. You weren’t alone. I had your back, as you always had ours.

Which gets to the power of Commander in Chief. In an open letter to the nation’s law enforcement officers on Tuesday, President Obama, finally, issued a message of support for police under siege in a national crisis. He mourned the loss of life among the men and women in blue, thanked them for their service in the face of danger, and called for national unity.

“Every day, you confront danger so it does not find our families, carry burdens so they do not fall to us, and courageously meet test after test to keep us safe. Like Dallas officer Lorne Ahrens, who bought dinner for a homeless man the night before he died, you perform good deeds beyond the call of duty and out of the spotlight. Time and again, you make the split-second decisions that could mean life or death for you and many others in harm’s way. You endure the tense minutes and long hours over lifetimes of service.

“Every day, you accept this responsibility and you see your colleagues do their difficult, dangerous jobs with equal valor. I want you to know that the American people see it, too. We recognize it, we respect it, we appreciate it, and we depend on you. And just as your tight-knit law enforcement family feels the recent losses to your core, our Nation grieves alongside you. Any attack on police is an unjustified attack on all of us. …

“Even when some protest you, you protect them. What is more professional than that? What is more patriotic? What is a prouder example of our most basic freedoms—to speech, to assembly, to life, and to liberty? And at the end of the day, you have a right to go home to your family, just like anybody else.”‘

Obama finally acknowledged that law enforcement officers need backing, with both resources and “our full-throated support,” to do their jobs. And he said law enforcement shouldn’t be held responsible for solving “issues we refuse to address as a society.”

That was huge, for this president.

As was this call for unity:

“Some are trying to use this moment to divide police and the communities you serve. I reject those efforts, for they do not reflect the reality of our Nation.”

His letter ends:

“We are at our best when we recognize our common humanity, set an example for our children of trust and responsibility, and honor the sacrifices of our bravest by coming together to be better.

“Thank you for your courageous service. We have your backs.”

It’s about time. This is what our law enforcement community needs to hear from us. Because they certainly have ours, at all costs.

Policing and community in America

Do we have race problems? Police problems? Both? What can be done?

Turn on the TV or open the newspaper in America today and you will see a dialogue—perhaps overdue—about social themes of the importance of human lives, racial equality, respect for the law, the rights of people to speak their voices, and whether or not we, as Americans, are as divided as we seem. These issues have come up with a certain strength today in America due to the confluence of at least three major events—two concerning a police-involved shooting, and one concerning a home-grown terrorist who sought to assassinate white police officers—within a few days. However, they are not new. In Chicago alone, the tension over police-related cases has resulted in the firing of the Chicago Police Chief and nearly cost the Mayor of Chicago his job.

However, while the discussion is over major social, cultural and political trends, Gregory Thomas, President of the (US) National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), reminds us that all policing is local, as he told me on radio Thursday.

It’s an unfortunate tide of events that have occurred in the past week, like getting hit in the gut three times. Shot on video, we had two police shootings, and the third event being the Dallas shooting of police officers. It doubled the nation over. So now we’re sitting here in pain, and it happened on consecutive days. We’re making it a national issue, but it’s a local issue.

While the reality is that about 95 percent of police are doing the right thing, that means five percent aren’t, and it’s all local. So if the cop on my block will stop me in my vehicle and harrass my kids, then that’s the whole police department to me. I don’t know what the other 99 are doing.

What a law enforcement officer is doing, and what a citizen is doing, in any given moment, is at the center of these terrible events.

It’s an important point lost in much of the rhetoric: each of these cases involve individual decisions of people in very different circumstances. It was the decision of an officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota to pull over Philandro Castile. It was the decision of Mr. Castile and the decision of the Officer that led to the shooting. It was the decision of Mr. Castile’s girlfriend that led to the aftermath being filmed, uploaded on the internet, which led to a series—perhaps tens of thousands—of other decisions of how to react to that video. It was the decision of religious officials to honor his mother’s request to hold a funeral for him in the Catholic Cathedral of St. Paul, Minnesota, and it was the decision of the family not to invite the media to that funeral.

The current events, on the one hand, point out that there is significant tension under the surface in America over the relationship between members of certain racial groups and the police. This tension, however, cannot be simplified since the members of all those same groups are also members of the police. We cannot forget that an Asian and a Hispanic police officer were the victims of the shooting in New York last year. And we should not forget that an African-American mother was also injured in the shooting of the white police officers in Dallas last week.

On the other hand, the current events conceal the individual nature of these choices. The Dallas shooter, as President Obama pointed out, most certainly does not represent all Black Lives Matter protesters. The same must be said for the cases of police abuse of power. Those individuals who abuse their power, or who make wrong decisions, must be held accountable. What will not help on this front is when the decision of one, or some, is attributed to a broader group. And yet, the principle that all policing is local reminds us that people form opinions—and opinions are decisions in the mind—based on what they see and experience.

If the events recently in America teach us anything, they should first show us the great need for a serious dialogue that seeks to bring all people to equal treatment before the law, as well as reminding us that every decision we make in our individual lives—be it a police officer carrying out his beat, or a business person at his desk—carries ramifications well beyond that individual, and, in a way, impacts the social fabric of which we are all part.

We have to decide who we want to be, and what we’ll do to achieve that goal in our lives, homes, communities and nation.