We Need Another Kerner Commission Now

A protestor faces police enforcing a curfew Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in Baltimore. A line of police behind riot shields hurle
A protestor faces police enforcing a curfew Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in Baltimore. A line of police behind riot shields hurled smoke grenades and fired pepper balls at dozens of protesters to enforce a citywide curfew. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

In November of last year I penned an op-ed calling on the president to appoint a modern-day equivalent of the Kerner Commission, a national panel to investigate the breadth and depth of the undercurrent of anger and mistrust in the poorer and mostly black communities that is erupting with greater frequency. Whether it is Ferguson, Missouri, or Baltimore, Maryland, the symptoms are the same, namely real or perceived abuse by police symptomatically igniting what is a powder keg in our poorer communities.

It would be little surprise if poverty, inequality, injustice, and feelings of hopelessness were identified as the root causes of the current state of race relations in our communities. But rather than speculate or argue over the issue, let's have a national discussion, transparent and honest, led by the president himself. Crises oftentimes lead to opportunities, and we must avail ourselves of the opportunity to confront this problem now, lest we find that we are dealing with a continuing rash of incidents down the road.

Not all police are reckless, unnecessarily violent, or sadistic; however, we have borne witness to a steady string of incidents, some of them caught on camera, where the worst fears of those who already harbor suspicions of law enforcement are seemingly validated. The injustice (which in too many instances involves a distinct racial component) leads to violent outrage.

The simplest, most effective, and most correct solution to the raging inferno that is the state of race relations in our cities today would be for the overwhelming majority of "good cops" to police their own ranks. But it appears as though the culture of protection amongst those whose jobs it is to protect the rest of us is simply too corrupted for that to happen. Therefore we need to have a very public examination and assessment of just what exactly is at the root of a problem that is eerily reminiscent of the riots that rocked America during the 1960s.

It is an opportunity for Obama to truly exhibit the qualities of the transformative leader those of us who supported him on two separate occasions have been hungering for. It is an opportunity for him to leave a legacy that will rival that of another great president from Illinois whose resolve to unite two Americas started the long and arduous task of repairing race relations that continues to this day.

There are many pressing issues facing the nation, and it would be presumptuous to suggest which is most important. However, in the search for our identity and our soul, it is hard to see how we can still be struggling with the basic, self-evident truth that all people are created equal.

While we applaud those attempting to redirect anger into nonviolence, the cold, stark reality at the street level is that when all else fails, the inexorable default is to lash out against oppressors and aggressors. That certain elements of the law-enforcement community bait such reactions with reckless abandon and seldom are prosecuted or even reprimanded only inflames the passions of those who see themselves as victims. The notion of good guys and bad guys loses all relevance in the fog that has enveloped communities of color.

The fact that modern technology enables the ubiquitous videographing of abuse only serves to validate the pent-up frustrations of a population that has been underrepresented in police departments for far too long. A thorough and systematic assessment of the factors that contribute to violence in our society is not only warranted but necessary. Mr. President, this crisis offers an opportunity to fix a system that is seriously broken and cement your standing in the pantheon of peace makers and problem solvers. Do not let this moment pass you by.