R Street President Eli Lehrer delivered the following remarks to the R Street staff:

Even with much else happening in the world and in many of our lives, it is impossible to ignore what is going on in the streets of America or its root causes. Nor will we at R Street. There is a lot to say and much work ahead—for us and our country. First, however, I—and we as an organization—think it’s important to acknowledge the pain and outrage of communities of color and others suffering during this time. In all things, we strive to lead with compassion, for ourselves and our treatment of others. As an organization, we’ve issued a statement, which you can read here, that’s going to be a permanent guide for the way we do business.

Watching our communities burn is difficult. It is not fitting or proper to condone violence committed by those who are supposed to enforce our laws or by some elements who associate themselves with the largely peaceful protests. Personally, I think Martin Luther King, Jr. had it right:

Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating…[R]iots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.

The message is clear now: we cannot continue to ignore the role that race and racism play in many American lives, nor can we ignore the legitimate grievances of the Black community, in particular. In agreeing that “Black Lives Matter,” I have tremendous personal sympathy with many on the political left, as well as at least some of my fellow travelers on the political right. I see massive faults in our national leadership’s handling of the protests and am outraged by violence against those who protest peacefully.

We differ from many others who share these convictions in believing strongly that this is not a matter of one uniquely evil person tearing the country apart. Nor do we believe that our national story is fraudulent, our governing institutions in need of radical restructuring or that capitalism ought to be abolished. 

Times of crisis have often resulted in the worst, most problematic, most liberty-infringing and discriminatory policies in our nation’s history. Being on guard against these is important. But, we do not need a revolution. Most revolutions, after all, have devoured their children; change within the context of our institutions is far more salubrious. And so, we must redouble our efforts and use a moment of crisis to work toward our ideals.

The real solutions for which R Street stands—liberty, diversity, free markets and choice—are more relevant to these problems than ever. R Street’s fundamental approach has and will always put institutions at its center, ground itself in liberty and take a cautious attitude toward any scheme that claims to improve the human condition but ignores the lessons of history, the wisdom gained from experience and the truths of human nature.

The problems being confronted are deep and are not limited to personalities or even elections. They are issues of culture and institutional structures—and many of these are grounded in a legacy of racism. Let me be clear also that a great many of these problems—although not all of them—can and should be properly understood as the result of central planning and big, overbearing government. Corrupt segments of police culture, housing policies originally intended to promote segregation and an educational system that does not create equal opportunity are all things that need reform.

As an institution, we are already doing work to confront some of these issues: our law enforcement and civil liberties program works closely on issues of police culture and reform; our commercial freedom program deals with a professional licensing system that began as a textbook example of structural racism. Our governance program preserves, defends and seeks to expand the checks and balances that have allowed our Constitution and democratic system to endure through crises time and again. And there is more we can do—more we will do.

We’re looking inside and outside our walls for where we can be most useful. If you have ideas, we’d like to hear from you. We want to make a difference.

R Street stands with our colleagues, friends, and allies of color.

Image credit:  betto rodrigues

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