The coronavirus pandemic has brought medical experts and scientists out of their labs and on to our screens. When allowed to talk they have spoken with clarity and purpose. As scientists they use phrases that we aren’t used to hearing. When they don’t know something they will say,” I don’t know.” They have gone so far as to tell us things that we don’t want to hear. We have come to respect and trust them.
They have had an advantage over the politicians along side of them who use the inexact language of elected officials. We are a nation that is finding uncertainty uncomfortable and a politician spewing false optimism and guesses doesn’t help.
We are a pretty clever nation and can handle scientific truth. We are learning to accept that science isn’t dreamed up and can be a slow moving process . Scientists dream and have hopes, but they don’t share them until they are peer reviewed. Left alone they seldom go off half baked. We must continue to patiently listen to them. It’s what we’ve got.
Comorbidity is the simultaneous presence of two or more chronic diseases or conditions in a patient. Our nation is suffering from a comorbidity problem. While we are fighting for our lives against a virus we are also suffering from pre-existing conditions, disunity, inequality, and systemic racism fed by cancerous leadership. These conditions have contributed to our reaching 100,000 deaths from Covid-19, to the under-serving of our poorest citizens and the continuing disproportionate impoverishment, suffering and death in the lives of our friends of color.
We were already fighting these three intruders when the virus arrived.
These recent incidents illustrate our existing illnesses.
On May 15, 2020 I read this analysis by The New York Times.
Two months after Congress approved billions to replace school meals, only 15 percent of the 30 million eligible children had received benefits, just 12 states had started sending money, and Michigan and Rhode Island alone had finished.
On May 25, 2020 We learned that 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last few months.
The pandemic has stripped away the curtain revealing systemic inequality that affects both rural and urban poor.
On May 25, 2020 Donald Trump tweeted an insulting remark about Joe Biden wearing a mask in a public space.
On May 26, 2020 Joe Biden called Donald Trump ” a fool” for saying that. He did call for unity, but the name calling is what we heard.
The virus hates people wearing masks even more than Donald Trump does. If most of us wore them the virus would suffer a deadly blow. Neither candidate made news saying this. They bickered instead. They did not stand shoulder to shoulder and challenge the country to come together.
On May 25, 2020 George Floyd was killed. His blatant murder was filmed by a young bystander.
On May 26, 2020 The Minneapolis police released a statement that a man died resisting arrest followed by the Mayor of Minneapolis decrying the brutality of the murder. Four police officers were fired. One arrest was made. There was silence from the White House and justified outrage across the country.
A good doctor’s best tool is his initial interview with his patient. From this conversation he will base 90% of his diagnostics. With the right tools the doctor can then heal us.
There are many leaders at both state and city level who have seem to grasped the pain that our most vulnerable neighbors are suffering. They are capable leaders trying to tackle the immediate problems with only the tools they have while assuring skeptical crowds that the deep seated endemic problems will be addressed. To be believed they must act.
My son Mark Osler lives in Minneapolis where he teaches law. For some reason Mark sees the human dignity in others. His experience as a federal prosecutor has giving him graphic examples of how racism, inequities and badly crafted laws afflict our criminal justice system. His focus has been firstly on the individuals suffering injustice and secondly changing the laws and processes to make the system just. This takes forgiveness and empathy along with some smarts. His religion tells him that he is flawed, but as his father I don’t see that. I am pleased he has seen the need for change and is doing something about it. I am proud that he spends a lot of time in prison.
Mark is a law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, and critic of narcotics policy and capital punishment in the United States. He holds the Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law at St. Thomas.
Mark’s writing on clemency, sentencing and narcotics policy has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and in law journals at Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Georgetown, Ohio State, UNC, William and Mary and Rutgers. His University of Chicago Law Review article (with Rachel Barkow) was highlighted in a lead editorial in The New York Times, in which the Times’ Editorial Board expressly embraced Barkow and Osler’s argument for clemency reform. Mark and Rachel also co-founded the Clemency Resource Center at NYU. He is the sole author of a new casebook, Contemporary Criminal Law (West, 2018). It is massive.
A former federal prosecutor, he played a role in striking down the mandatory 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine in the federal sentencing guidelines by winning the case of Spears v. United States in the U.S. Supreme Court, with the Court ruling that judges could categorically reject that ratio. He has testified as an expert before the United States Sentencing Commission and the United States House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.
In his scholarship and advocacy, Osler often explicitly addresses Christian audiences, and he holds the Ruthie Mattox Chair of Preaching at First Covenant Church, Minneapolis.
Here is Mark’s take on the tragic events in his hometown when he first learned of the tragedy. He blogs every day at OSLER’S RAZOR.
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Death in Minneapolis
Lately, I’ve been using Wednesdays for profiling my law school classmates, but I need to take a break from that this week. Something sad and deeply troubling has happened, not that far from where I sit as I write this. And it is an indictment of my generation of lawyers– the privileged and powerful group I graduated with from Yale Law– that this is still happening. We have not addressed the problems of race in our society in a way that conscience demands.
Yesterday, a man named George Floyd–pictured above– was arrested outside a Minneapolis grocery store. He was accused of using a counterfeit bill at the store, which is forgery under state law (it has its own counterfeiting statute in federal law). At any rate, it is not a very serious crime in the larger picture.
When Mr. Floyd was taken into custody, a Minneapolis police officer punished him until he died, by pressing a knee to his neck as he gasped for breath on the pavement.
Often with these incidents I wait to opine or write about them– I am very cautious about having a position until all the evidence is out. On this one, though, based on the video available, it is hard to imagine any justification for the killing. The officers involved have been fired, and I expect at least one of them to be charged with murder.
This is troubling on many levels. The racial injustice is clear– this is yet another incident with a white police officer and a dead black man. And where does that degree of malice come from in one empowered to act in the public interest?
Something is very much wrong in our culture of law enforcement. Part of what a new administration at the federal level must do is take that seriously. If Joe Biden wants to be a president who is distinct from his predecessor, he must commit not just to study, but to action.
We do not treat black and white in the same way.
We incarcerate too many people.
We have made too many things illegal.
We have chosen retribution over freedom and even safety, and this has harmed our culture.
Those in law enforcement can no longer be the only ones given a legitimized voice in evaluating our criminal justice structure and practice.