A Call For a More Compassionate and Civil Society

Last week’s shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas have made more urgent our need for a national civil discussion about longstanding systemic challenges that deeply divide our communities. The Council on Foundations steadfastly denounces the killing of innocent people, no matter their skin color, political position, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. We mourn the lives lost and send our thoughts to their friends and loved ones and to our philanthropic colleagues who serve and lead in the affected communities.

The killing of innocent people has no place in a free and just society. Using violence to mediate difference is counter to American civic values. Philanthropy must steadfastly work to reduce violence, preserve lives, and foster humane, healthy communities.

Typically, the Council on Foundations comments on moments of intense tragedy, as we have done in the past with the Paris and Orlando atrocities. But the events of the last week are more than moments. Evidence suggests that they are part of a larger pattern of injustice which has deep systemic roots. It appears that we have reached a moment of crisis in our relations with one another, and between the justice system and men and boys of color.

We recognize that instances of injustice surface every day. This moment, however, feels different. Today, President Obama and former President George W. Bush acknowledged that we have to face the divides of race and come together to understand each other’s experiences and live up to our highest ideals.

This is a unique moment in our collective lives. The hurt, confusion, and anger expressed by many Americans is a culmination of far too many individual events in which lives have been lost, especially the lives of people of color.

According to The Washington Post, the number of black Americans killed in police shootings in 2016 — 123 individuals — represents a disproportionate number of blacks relative to their number in the general population. Black Americans comprise 13 percent of the population, yet represent 24 percent of those killed in police shootings this year. This disparity is reflected among other populations of people of color including Latinos. The Guardian reports that Latinos were the second largest group of people killed by police in 2015 after black people — a number which could be higher if all deaths were counted and if Hispanic were classified as a race.

We are equally troubled by the systemic challenges faced by people of color in our nation. Persistent inequality, opportunity gaps, and educational disparities contribute to racial stereotyping, and the bias to which so many people of color are subjected.

We must also remember and appreciate the brave law enforcement officers killed while protecting peaceful protestors in Dallas in such a professional manner. We honor and respect their service, recognize that their work is challenging, and extend our sympathy to their families, friends, and colleagues. Sadly, their service is complicated by tensions between law enforcement and the minority communities they serve. We often ask the police to do too much and ask too little of ourselves.

Organized philanthropy has worked for many years to address systemic violence. Many foundations work to build understanding, improve community policing, and reduce killing. Philanthropy’s steadfast commitment to strengthening our communities compels us to call upon foundations to advance a civil conversation focused on what we have in common and ensure equal treatment under the law.

We also stand in solidarity with our members and others who have responded to these recent tragedies and have been longtime champions of equality and community. President Obama today said, “Hope does not arise by putting our fellow man down; it is found by lifting others up.” Embracing that sentiment, the Council over the next several months will highlight member stories and case studies of work that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion, and encourage idea sharing on the Philanthropy Exchange. We must learn from one another.

In the wake of these recent tragedies, philanthropy must lead. We must bridge differences of opinion and ideology. We must listen to, learn from, and respect one another, and we must use our moral authority to advance the common good.

The road ahead remains challenging, but philanthropy must never be deterred from lifting up solutions and amplifying the need for a more compassionate and civil society.

Comments

Thank you for this timely and important call to action. I would like to suggest forming cross-disciplinary partnerships to adopt empathy as a shared value and an intentional outcome across sectors. Empathy, when considered for its full potential that can help us connect to our internal world of emotions, those around us, and the greater Whole of which we are all a part, would benefit personal, institutional, societal as well as environmental progress and can be a potent tool that allows individuals find purpose and meaning in life through acts of compassion and altruism. More on this subject can be found at an upcoming book: "Fostering Empathy Through Museums" by Rowman and Littlefield publishers (August 16).

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