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We have a lot of work to do as a nation — and it starts with uniting

We have a lot of work to do as a nation — and it starts with uniting
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More than 200 years ago, our nation’s founders described a set of truths that they found self-evident, including that people are created equal. Generations of young men and women — soldiers and civil rights activists alike — have died abroad and at home to defend this ideal. Yet, our nation has struggled mightily to ensure that all are treated equally, fairly and justly.   

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis highlights — in stark terms — that racial injustice exists in the country today, particularly given that his death was just one event in a much longer, troubling narrative. It is thus clear that we still have not solved this massive problem and that we have significant work to do to ensure that we create the type of equality described in our founding documents. In order to build a better, more just society that truly adheres to our ideals, and to honor the memory of those who have rendered the ultimate sacrifice for us, we must work together to solve a number of fundamental issues at the heart of our society. 

We must first listen to those who understand the core problem of racial inequality and those who have experienced it firsthand. We must embrace their stories of suffering and learn from them. We must look inward to see what role, if any, each of us has played in this injustice, make amends for those failures, and commit ourselves to being part of the solution. Our primary objective should be making the ideal that all men and women are created equal — regardless of race, creed, class, sexual orientation or gender identity — a reality.

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We must acknowledge the reality of the continuing problem of police brutality and develop programs that address unlawful, inappropriate uses of force, particularly against minorities and marginalized populations. Dismantling or defunding police forces wholesale is not the path to success. Training them well, holding them fully accountable, is a more productive long-term path. 

While the vast majority of law enforcement officers are honorable public servants doing their best to protect their communities and to make a living, there are those who ought to be better trained, those who ought to be held accountable and, where appropriate, find other employment or be punished under the law. Just as we train and hold accountable members of our military forces — and, yes, root out bad actors — we must do the same in our police forces.  

When it comes to offering equal opportunity to our citizenry, there can be little doubt that our educational system does not provide nor truly enhance the equality we seek. We have known for decades that children educated in the inner cities are not afforded the same opportunities as those in the suburbs, nor do children in many rural parts of our country get the educational opportunities of those in urban areas. While economics undoubtedly plays a significant role in these educational gaps, we cannot ignore the very real racially biased aspects of these failures. While efforts to address school-funding shortfalls and the creation of charter schools unquestionably have improved the situation in many areas, we are far from offering all children an equal shot at the core building blocks for a successful future. To that end, we should take this moment in our national conversation to commit ourselves to fixing the massive gaps in K-12 education — and, in particular, K-6 education — left unresolved for far too long.

We likewise must acknowledge that, for far too long, the halls of leadership in key parts of our society have not accurately reflected the diversity of our nation. While we are significantly further along today than we have been in the past, there still remains significant work to be done. Qualified men and women of diverse backgrounds can fill these positions, and we should work to ensure diversity throughout society. We must mentor the next generation of diverse leaders to prepare them to play key roles and give them role models — who look like them — to follow. We must do much better in this regard and, in doing so, reject the trope that achieving diversity in leadership (or in our workforces) requires us to sacrifice quality. It does not.

We also must acknowledge that there are forces at work, internal and external, that seek to divide us as a nation and as a people. Within our own nation, we see leaders who chose to divide rather than unite, and we see groups — often motivated by racial bias, or espousing ideologies that run counter to American ideals — which stoke violence in the name of their illegitimate causes. Likewise, we know our foreign adversaries, including Russia and China, will engage in overt and covert disinformation to take advantage and create chaos and division within our society. We must reject these efforts at division, foreign or domestic, and recommit ourselves to truly being one indivisible nation. We have always stood stronger together, rather than separately, and now is a moment when we need one another more than ever for the common good.

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This is a moment for uniting our nation with compassion and honesty. It is a moment to take stock of who we are and what we can do to understand, support and assist our countrymen of all backgrounds. It is a moment to reject those who would undermine these efforts, including those who engage in the use of unlawful violence and force, whether police or anarchists, leaders or followers. Just as we reject the killing of George Floyd and the abuse or death of many others, we likewise must reject violence against peaceful protestors. It is an American ideal to protest peacefully; it provides an opportunity for all of us to listen to those whose voices should be heard. Likewise, we must work together to stop the destruction and vandalism of businesses and churches, to hold accountable those who conduct such unlawful activities. We cannot allow fringe extremists to hijack the peaceful majority of our nation or of legitimate protests.

As we step forward to meet these very real challenges, it is worth remembering, once again, that many, many Americans fought and died on our behalf to preserve these values and to build a better, more just America. We ought not let these sacrifices go to waste.  

Let’s begin that effort right now as a united nation committed to the premise that all men and women truly are created equal.

Gen. (Ret.) Keith B. Alexander is the former director of the U.S. National Security Agency, the founding commander of United States Cyber Command, and founder, chairman and co-CEO of IronNet Cybersecurity, a startup technology company that focuses on behavioral network traffic analytics and collective defense.

Jamil N. Jaffer is the former chief counsel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a former associate counsel to President George W. Bush, and senior vice president for strategy, partnerships and corporate development at IronNet Cybersecurity. Follow him on Twitter @jamil_n_jaffer.