I don’t think Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein should resign from office.
Since the protests began following George Floyd’s horrific killing by Minneapolis police, both Democrats have issued strong denunciations of systemic racism that, they claim, pervades our nation and state.
On Tuesday Cooper signed an executive order creating a task force to “help eliminate systemic racism in our criminal justice system.” Stein – who has denounced systemic injustice “in the criminal justice system, in the economy, or in the health care system” – will lead the group with N.C. Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls.
While optimists applaud the action and cynics say Geez, Marie, another commission everyone should ask the two leaders: If you truly think the problem is so bad, what took you so long to address it?
Before he became governor in 2017, Cooper served as North Carolina’s Attorney General for 16 years. From that perch he had ample opportunity both through constitutional authority and the bully pulpit to root out the systemic injustice he is now denouncing.
Why did he make such little progress?
Stein served in the North Carolina Assembly for eight years before succeeding Cooper as Attorney General in 2017. He’s had plenty of time to address police brutality and what he sees as systemic injustice in our criminal justice system. But the 10 ways “Josh protects the people of North Carolina” listed on his website Tuesday did not directly address either.
Yes, policing is mostly a local issue. But when the status quo is so corrupt leaders of conscience must work tirelessly – and sometimes outside the limits of their own authority – for reform.
Cooper’s failure is especially troubling given his full-throated support of the protests in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. After requiring many businesses and churches to shut down and instructing citizens to remain at home, he supported the masses of people who marched through the streets. Yes he probably couldn’t- and shouldn’t have – stopped them But his posture also suggests he believes the fight against systemic racism is so crucial that it is worth risking untold numbers of deaths.
I have no doubt that Cooper and Stein are decent men. But the leftwing logic now on the rise says decency is insufficient for the urgent task of cleansing America of its Original Sin. It is no longer enough to be nonracist. Now we must be anti-racist – that is, we must devote our lives to the struggle by taking strong, purposeful actions every day to dismantle the racism that pervades every aspect of American life.
Both men have fallen short in that regard.
Part of the reason, this logic holds, may be because they can never truly know what it is like to be an African American. Their lived experience prevents them from understanding that reality.
They can be effective allies – with time, with reflection, with acknowledgement of their passive role on shoring up an unjust system. But the urgency of the moment demands more, now.
I, for one, reject that logic. I don’t believe that America has been broken from its birth. I don’t think we’re defined by slavery and oppression, but by imperfect freedom and opportunity. Cooper and Stein’s histories suggest they believed that too.
But that’s not the message they are implicitly endorsing. If they are now sincere, their own logic suggests they should consider stepping aside.