Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) covered a lot of ground in his speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention on Wednesday.
The former 2016 presidential nominee addressed the shooting of five police officers following a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, the massacre at a gay club in Orlando in June, the attack on a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, France, and the murder of three police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, before honing in on his speech’s broader theme: freedom.
“Our nation is exceptional because it was built on the five most powerful words in the English language: ‘I want to be free,’” he said. “Never has that message been more needed than today. We stand here tonight a nation divided. Partisan rancor, anger, even hatred are tearing America apart.”
After barreling through what freedom means to him, Cruz did something unprecedented ― he mentioned the name of a black person who lost their life to police violence.
Our party was founded to defeat slavery. Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
We passed the Civil Rights Act, and fought to eliminate Jim Crow laws.
Those were fights for freedom, and so is this.
Sergeant Michael Smith stood up to protect our freedom.
So do our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines fighting radical Islamic terrorism.
So did the family of Alton Sterling, who bravely called to end the violence.
So did the families of those murdered at the Charleston Emanuel AME church, who forgave that hateful, bigoted murderer.
And so can we.
Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot and killed by Baton Rouge police on July 5. The officers were responding to reports of a man selling CDs in front of a convenience store and threatening people with a gun.
Cruz saying Sterling’s name before a crowd at the RNC broke new ground. But the Texan didn’t do so in order to highlight police violence, despite how squarely the phenomenon fits into anybody’s understanding of the notion of freedom and constitutional protections.
Instead, he’s applauding Sterling’s family for condemning the deaths of the three officers in Baton Rouge, while completely bypassing the systemic racism that caused Sterling’s death.
Cruz followed the Sterling reference with praise of the churchgoers shot in Charleston, who famously forgave Dylann Roof, the bigot who murdered their loved ones. By doing so, he focused on the grace extended to Roof by the families of those killed and not on the anger they or other black Americans may righteously feel.
Focusing only on the deaths of police officers and forgiveness ― something often seen as commendable by non-black Americans ― misses the point and, inadvertently or not, dismisses the anger felt by the communities experiencing these losses.
But can we expect anything else from the party that just voted to put a racist on its ballot? Or the party that just released a platform that notes the “unprecedented campaign of harassment against police forces” but doesn’t mention institutional racism?