No statue matters as much as a human life. No symbol matters as much as the ideals it represents.

This is point of beginning for responses to the violence as people, including elected officials, are attacked and historic statues are dragged from their pedestals. We believe that most all people know that the violence must end.

The power of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience must be brought to bear in order to advance the cause of racial justice at a vital moment in the history of our city, our state and our nation. Law enforcement agencies can and must facilitate demonstrations that seek an end to police brutality in particular and systemic racism in general. At the same time, those same agencies must prevent violence that threatens safety, stirs backlash and distracts attention from issues that have for too long been neglected.

This is an essential understanding at a moment when, as one governor said, people “cannot allow ourselves to forget the reason why these protests began: because of the murder of George Floyd, of Breonna Taylor, of the many Black lives taken before them, and because racism and structural inequality still pervade this country. Our cause and our purpose must continue to be the pursuit of the promise of an equitable, just, and fair state and country, and we cannot delay delivering on these promises any longer.”

Unfortunately, that is easier said than done at a point when justified anger and understandable confusion can overwhelm people on all sides of a necessary debate about changing policing and addressing systemic racism.

The best way to navigate this moment is by focusing on the critical issues that have been raised by peaceful protests in recent weeks.

Many statues should be restored to their places of honor. They speak to historic ideals of justice that need to be remembered and maintained. They should be joined by new statues that recognize those who brought those ideals into the 20th century.

But we should primarily concern ourselves with the 21st century, focusing on economic and social and racial justice.

Of course, there are disagreements about policy. Of course, there will be debates. Have them! But don’t use a heartbreaking night to try and score cheap political points.

This is not a time to play the political games that close hearts and minds. Protesters are right to demand that the nation lives up to its stated ideals. Those demands must be made urgently and effectively at a time when hearts and minds are open. Violence and destruction distracts from this necessary focus and narrows the discourse at a critical juncture when so very much is at stake.

An editorial from The Capital Times, Madison, Wisconsin.