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America Boils Over

George Floyd’s death at the hands of a white police officer has triggered protests across the United States and laid bare the country’s racial, economic, and political divisions. How, if at all, might America heal – and does history offer any guide?

In this Big Picture, Harvard’s Khalil Gibran Muhammad traces today’s crisis to the United States’ founding and argues that overcoming it will require fundamental political and economic reforms. Above all, elected US officials should put racial justice at the center of their vision for a new America.

Focusing on America’s long-standing problem of racist law enforcement, Jeffrey Sommers of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee says that a multi-pronged strategy is needed to reduce the pressures on both urban communities and the police. New York University’s Jorge G. Castañeda, meanwhile, believes that today’s multiple crises point – more than at any time since 1932 – to America’s need for sound leadership and a full-fledged welfare state.

Hospital physician and human-rights advocate Akash Goel finds an example of the vision America needs in a 1968 US presidential campaign speech by Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and explains why Kennedy’s diagnosis of America’s cultural ills remains accurate today. But Ian Buruma draws a different lesson from that tumultuous year, and asks whether a Republican presidential candidate could again win in November by pledging to restore law and order.

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