There are few things more difficult than reconciling opposing views on equality and justice, for consensus on these issues demands agreeing about agreement. These threads weave through the recent awarding of a ceremonial Dallas city key to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick by Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway.
In awarding the key, Caraway staked a strong claim on the definitions of equality and justice, sending a message of praise in the midst of Vick’s penance for a felony dog-fighting conviction and showing assertive racial justice. As a city official, a participant in American society and a capable human being, Caraway fell short of the mark in promoting equality.
A mayor pro tem is a hybrid between a city council member and a vice mayor. Chiefly a legislative council member, Caraway’s goals include expectations of discussion, compromise and, ultimately, policymaking. Taking authority into his own hands and awarding the key on behalf of the City of Dallas without a consensus policy oversteps the boundaries of a legislator.
Caraway’s action is equivalent to a member of the U.S. Congress from Florida awarding the Medal of Honor to a soldier from California without going through the proper chain of command, or an SGA member suddenly deciding who should be Mr. and Miss TCU in a given year. Legislators should not be able to speak on behalf of the entire government without consent, which Caraway lacked in his decision.
Awarding the key to Vick becomes complex and controversial when considering race issues. An overtone in the award is a sense, which prevails both in professional athletics and in American society, that the natural response to unequal racial treatment in courts should be to “stick it to the man” and redefine justice by the terms of the minority group.
Caraway’s claim to racial justice is misplaced. Regardless of whether Vick faced unfair treatment in trial for his dog-fighting charges, the courts must not be seen as enemies, because how can the struggle for racial equality ever be legitimate if the instrument of law is not trusted? To paraphrase a popular slogan, courts don’t or no longer discriminate. People discriminate. Vick does not deserve the key because he became part of Caraway’s assertive racial solidarity.
True racial solidarity and a push for a race-blind society must occur constructively. Exemplars of equality ought to judge race issues by how they help a minority in a broad moral sense. Equality cannot come through forcing a conflict with the courts. It comes by determination and cooperation.
Besides overstepping his role as city official and citizen, Caraway treads on dangerous ethical and psychological ground in awarding the key to Vick. Dallas radio figure Richard Hunter revealed Vick’s unapologetic attitude when Hunter was insulted by Vick’s entourage for asking about the quarterback’s thoughts on one of the dogs Vick used for dog-fighting.
Celebrating Vick in the midst of his mandatory probation communicates the wrong idea. People still trying to grasp their own shortcomings will fail more often when praised for their past actions. If Vick’s disregard for Hunter is any indication, receiving the key will only reinforce the belief that Vick does not need to finish owning up to his actions.
Caraway laid too great a claim to justice when he took the celebration of Vick into his own hands last week. The true key lies in a measured and sensible sort of equality.
Pearce Edwards is a sophomore political science and history double major from Albuquerque, N.M.