Peace on Earth.
The message of Christmas, the wish of the day, never loses its power, all good people yearning for a world in which we can sleep in heavenly peace.
We imagine a world free of war in Israel and Afghanistan, in Somalia and Libya, in Nigeria and Pakistan. We imagine a world at peace in New York City and on the South Side of Chicago.
More than imagine, we are challenged each Christmas Day to do our share to make a more peaceful world a reality. The story of the Christ Child in the manger is infused with promise and expectations. A savior is born. We are challenged, whatever our religious beliefs, to find the spirit of Christ within ourselves. We are asked to be saviors, too.
In New York last weekend, an angry and deranged man shot and killed two police officers sitting in a squad car. The killer, who then took his own life, said he was avenging acts of police brutality in New York and in Ferguson, Mo.
Furious police officers across the country blame the killing of the two New York cops on the anti-police bile of protesters in Staten Island, Ferguson and elsewhere in recent months, and there is something to that. Too often protesters against perceived police brutality — an undeniably real problem — went well beyond criticizing specific practices and actions to demonizing the police themselves.
The greatest threat to our police, though, is not one angry loner incited to violence by anti-police rhetoric. It is the appallingly dangerous situations we throw officers into every day, in places that know no peace.
Peace comes with social justice, of which there is not enough. Too many Americans, especially young black men, still don’t get a fair shake. Instead, we hide behind the police, asking them to keep us safe. The cops pay the price so that we don’t have to.
There is no excusing criminal behavior. There is no tolerating killers and armed robbers. Arrest them, convict them and lock them up. There is, for that matter, no excusing absent or lousy parents.
But let’s admit how society grows criminals. It is no secret.
We send them to inferior, sometimes awful, schools. Michael Brown, the teenager killed by a Ferguson police officer in August, attended a high school with such a dismal level of academic performance that it had lost its state accreditation by the time he graduated. About half of the school’s black male students never graduate, and just one in four make it to a four-year college.
We give them little chance, especially without that high school diploma, at decent paying employment. Entry-level jobs are scarce for teenage boys along the depressed streets of our inner cities. Black unemployment rates are twice as high as white unemployment rates, a gap that has not narrowed over more than half a century.
We scoop them up and put them in jail and prison at an early age, often for the sort of offenses — petty thefts and drug abuse — that might mean probation for a middle-class young man with a good lawyer. “One of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime,” according to a 2013 report to the United Nations. Of the 2.3 million people now incarcerated, 1 million are African-Americans.
If they were not hardened criminals before they were locked up, there is a better chance they will be by the time they are released.
Misfortune is not predestination. Many Americans, of all races and ethnicity, are born into miserable circumstances and, nonetheless, find their way up and out. They survive dysfunctional families. They stay in school when others do not. They get that scarce good job.
But, in fairness, let’s acknowledge the odds.
Peace on Earth begins in our own backyard.