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Not Always Our Brothers' Keepers

Not Always Our Brothers' Keepers

By Ed Koch - March 10, 2010

The black community is reeling from the spate of attacks against major black officeholders. The Republicans are seeking to destroy the first black president, Barack Obama, and prevent his reelection by denying him any political successes. Every day, they show evidence of having become the party of "no."

I do not believe the Republicans' attacks are in any way related to the President's race, but rather his philosophy and programs. However, the frequency and intensity of such attacks and the Republicans' failure to work with Democrats on virtually all matters is intolerable. It may be due to the high regard which the public still maintains for President Obama, notwithstanding polls rejecting his comprehensive health insurance.

The media has reported that there is anxiety and shame in the African-American community resulting from corruption and ethics allegations, especially in New York, directed against Governor David Paterson, Congressman Charles Rangel, Congressman Gregory Meeks and State Senator Malcolm Smith. Understandably, many in that community feel the necessity of rallying around these officials simply on the basis of racial solidarity. They are wrong to do so, whereas earlier in our history and not so long ago, their reaction would have been understandable because of the discrimination that was so overt and prevalent.

No ethnic, religious, racial or other community is responsible for the misdeeds of individual members of that community. And no individuals are responsible for the failures of entire institutions. A Catholic parishioner is not responsible for the admitted failures of the Catholic Church to control and punish clergy who molested children. Jews, and I am one of them, are not responsible for other Jews like former Governor Eliot Spitzer who was compelled to resign in disgrace and Bernie Madoff, who is now in prison for defrauding mostly other Jews
and swindling them out of their assets in the largest Ponzi scheme ever detected.

Notwithstanding that we are not our brothers' keepers, it is understandable that we are uncomfortable in these situations. Nonetheless, we should stay level-headed and use our common sense and, instead of rallying around those who betray our trust out of community loyalty, we should engage in appropriate criticism of wrongdoers.

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Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, has joined the states of Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont in permitting same-sex marriages. Washington's city council adopts the laws governing the capital, but Congress can overrule and reject the city council's actions. In this case, it did not. Interestingly, as The New York Times reported on March 4th, "Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on Tuesday rejected a request from opponents of same-sex marriage to have the United States Supreme Court delay it."

In California, two outstanding attorneys, Ted Olsen, who is generally identified with the Republican Party, and David Boies, who is generally identified with the Democratic Party, have joined forces to argue an appeal in the Federal District Court in San Francisco, seeking to set aside the vote in California in 2008 on Proposition 8 that revoked the right of same-sex marriage which had been established by the California State Supreme Court in May, 2008.

Most people would agree that the issue of same-sex marriage has come a very long way in a very short time. Gay marriage has become the most important issue on the gay rights agenda. Gay marriage has enormous symbolic meaning: full equality in marriage for all, irrespective of sexual orientation, with all of the prerogatives and obligations that come with that status. Troubling, however, is the apparent lack of progress in striking down the more immediate discrimination in every day life affecting gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered. We see no accounts in the media of successes in adding to the list of states and cities that bar discrimination against gays, lesbians, et al., in employment, housing and education. Currently, only 20 states, including New York, have some form of protection for gays.

Hopefully, advocates of same-sex marriage who have been really extraordinary in their efforts and accomplishments will give greater attention to striking down discrimination in employment, housing and education which will affect millions more lives. The symbolic and substantive importance of same-sex marriage cannot be denied. Employment, housing and education are meat and potato issues affecting the daily lives of millions and must also be addressed now and with equal intensity.

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I believe that the Ottoman Turks during World War I committed genocide against the Armenian people when they slaughtered more than a million Armenians living in Turkey. Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 23 to 22, as The New York Times described it, "to condemn as genocide the mass killing of Armenians early in the last century defying a last minute plea from the Obama administration to forego a vote that seemed sure to offend Turkey and jeopardize delicate efforts at Turkish-Armenian reconciliation."

My reason for opposing the resolution is that we need Turkey, a NATO member, to assist our ongoing military efforts in Afghanistan, and I do not want in any way to endanger U.S. military forces in Afghanistan or Iraq. If Armenian lives were in danger today from Turkey - and they are not - I would urge our doing whatever we could, even using force, to save those lives as we did in the Balkans and as we should have done in Ruanda and Burundi in Africa. But today, we are discussing a symbolic action condemning an act of genocide that occurred about a hundred years ago. Yes, that act should be condemned and will be sometime in the future appropriately denounced by the U.S. Congress if Turkey and Armenia don't come to a resolution, but not today when we are fighting two wars in the Mideast and are beset with the possibility of further terrorist attacks here in the U.S.

I am not as supportive of Turkey as I once was. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the head of an Islamist party, recently embarked on a course of action to limit the constitutional prerogative of the Turkish army enshrined in the Turkish constitution by the founder of modern Turkey, Attaturk. The government of Turkey has recently arrested and is pursuing Turkish army officers seeking to protect and retain a secular Turkey. It has also sought to reduce and possibly destroy the heretofore close relationship between Turkey and Israel. Nevertheless for me, the safety of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan is paramount. We should refrain for the time being from passing anti-Turkish resolutions regarding the Armenian genocide.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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