A Contrast of Good and Evil

By: Marc H. Morial

President

National Urban League

The judgment, if you will, early this month of four men in courts of law, on the one

hand, and, on the other, in the court of public opinion have produced a startling

juxtaposition of the evil some human beings are capable of and the good other human

beings commit themselves to.

In mentioning the latter, I’m referring to the outpourings of emotion that attended

the deaths of Pope John Paul II, and, here in the United States, the famed attorney

Johnnie Cochran.

But, first, let me speak of the judgments in courts of law of two men who embody

the depravity of spirit and the worship of violence that has always been too common in

human affairs.

On April 6 in a federal court in Chicago Matthew Hale, the 33-year-old leader of a

violent white supremacist group, was sentenced to forty years in prison for plotting to

assassinate a federal judge.

Two days later, federal officials announced that Eric Robert Rudolph, a notorious

white supremacist who had been captured in 2003 after five years on the run, had pled

guilty to bombings that killed two people and injured more than 150 others, in order to

avoid a trial that could have brought the death penalty.

Federal officials said Rudolph was responsible for the deadly 1996 bombing at

the Olympic Village in Atlanta, and three bombings in the next two years outside a

family-planning clinic, and a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta, and an abortion clinic in

Birmingham, Alabama, in which the clinic’s security guard, an off-duty police officer, was

killed.

Rudolph and Hale, like so many whose bottomless hatred of and need to

dominate others lead them to commit violence themselves or persuade others to do so,

are actually cowards. Hatred of others offers them a refuge from their fear of making

their way in our modern, complex world.

Many African Americans will easily recognize the type of people Hale and

Rudolph are. The White South of the Jim Crow decades was infested with their like.

What a contrast they represent to Johnnie Cochran, whose life and career was a

testament to African Americans’ achievement ethic, and to their patriotism in using the

law of the land to pursue justice.

During and after the O.J. Simpson murder trial, some, succumbing to base

motives, sought to pose Johnnie Cochran as a figure of ridicule. But the evidence of his

brilliant legal mind, and the clients of all kinds who continually flocked to his firm,

wouldn’t permit that. His great passion for pursuing justice for ordinary people fueled

the extraordinary contribution he made to Black America.

Pope John Paul II embodied that commitment in religious terms and on a global

scale.

During the past week, we’ve heard tributes to the late Pope from politicians, the

media, religious leaders, ordinary citizens for his unending commitment to reaching out

to the destitute and fighting for the poor—tributes grounded in fact.
For example, in his 1998 Lenten message, the Pope declared that poverty
“which for many of our brothers crosses the line to misery, is a scandal. It assumes a
multiplicity of forms … : the lack of the necessary means of survival and primary health
care; the absence of a home or its inadequacy ….; the marginalization of the weakest
from society and the unemployed from the productive sector; the loneliness of those
having no one to count on; the condition of international refugees and those who suffer
from war and its cruelties; the inequality of salaries; the absence of a family … The
individual is humiliated by the lack of these necessities of life. It is a tragedy before
which those who have the possibility to intervene cannot, in conscience, remain
indifferent.”

Sadly, some who today praise the Pope place a disproportionate emphasis on
the prohibitions he espoused, burying his views on love, compassion and forgiveness
within an avalanche of so-called moral values made up of little more than vengeance,
judgmentalism and exclusion.

But I ask: How better to serve God than to work to ensure healthy starts for all of
our babies—not just those born into a particular class? How better to demonstrate the
power of love, forgiveness and commitment to the principle of redemption than to
provide opportunities for prisoners to reenter our society after repaying their debt? How
better to carry out Christ’s teachings than to reach out to help the poor, the neglected,
the left behind and bring them into the social and economic mainstream of our nation?

It is well and good to praise the Pope. But the best tribute we could pay this
great and holy man would be to put into action the teachings for which we now honor
him. And that means all of his teachings, not just those cherry picked for individual
political purposes.

In honoring Pope John Paul II, let’s do more than give lip service to his legacy.

Let us put into practice the true meaning of what he lived and tried to teach us.

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