We have to build bridges or else
As a writer, sometimes you have no words. Your topic is so astonishing and appalling that you’re struck mute trying to formulate just what to say. Other times you suffer from too many words, words that threaten to burst forth from your inner being in an eruption of word vomit. I’m bouncing between those two moods when I think about the police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in a suburb of St. Paul as well as the five police officers shot dead and seven others wounded in Dallas, Texas this week.
Mother of God.
There’s a reason why #BlackLivesMatter started. It actually started as a protest to the Trayvon Martin murder and branched out to other people of color gunned down by police in questionable circumstances. It seems easy enough to understand. The supporters formed the group to say our lives matter, too! But in response, we’ve seen ignoramuses make the useless statement “all lives matter.” AllLivesMatter says absolutely nothing.
#BlackLivesMatter is shining a spotlight on an issue that needs attention. It’s not the only thing they focus on but it’s an important issue. There are plenty of other groups dedicated to a plethora of causes. There are organizations for civil rights, feminism, LGBT, Latinos, Jews, Asians, Irish, Italian, Polish, military vets, police officers, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants and others all dedicated to various causes.
I’m angry after watching those videos. I’m hurt after hearing the pain of the victims’ families. I’m tired of the protests being ignored. I’m tired of having to explain this topic to people who are either too slow to get it or have a vested interest in not getting it.
Whenever these shootings happen, often a video will appear on social media by some Pollyannish Negro who wants to explain how anyone can easily survive a traffic stop by police. These videos are shared and shared, mostly by non-black social media users. While it’s cathartic for some, it actually says very little. The vast majority of black folks have survived interactions with the police. What I resent about them is it assumes the black folks cause their own deaths.
I’m so tired of hearing people trying to divert attention away from police shootings of blacks to “black on black” crime. The term “black on black crime” is problematic in itself. According to the FBI, 84 percent of white murder victims are murdered by white people. Yet “white on white crime” isn’t a thing. The black community is well aware of violence in black neighborhoods. We’re the ones who go to the funeral homes, who go to the funerals, who hide from gunfire and we’re the ones who ask for help. But the thing that angers me is that people who usually bring up shootings by blacks in black neighborhoods aren’t actually interested in the black community. The fact that they’re not familiar with the organizations working in those communities, the mentoring, the messaging and the marching is just proof that they want to use it as a talking point. They don’t give a shit about black lives.
What is the point of trying to divert attention from the problem of police shootings of young black men? Some 40,000 people die of breast cancer every year. But 610,000 die of heart disease. So should we divert that attention and resources from breast cancer to heart disease? Of course not.
Now, I’m not jumping to conclusions. The investigations should proceed in a methodical, professional and impartial manner. I can’t arrive at a conclusion and expect the evidence to back me up. The evidence is the evidence and we need to follow it wherever it leads. It’s important because too often rumor, speculation and innuendo spread like wildfire in the aftermath of these shootings and we take it as the gospel truth. The Justice Department investigated the Michael Brown shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri and though they found rampant racism and discrimination in the police department and city government, they concluded the Michael Brown shooting was justified. I accept that.
But there was no video in the Michael Brown case. The video of the Alton Sterling shooting and the aftermath of the Philando Castile shootings are disturbing. Some members of law enforcement have gone on record that the shootings look problematic.
Parents are afraid. I’m afraid. I’m written about the run-ins I’ve had with police. Most of my interactions have been positive while a few were not. In recent years, I’ve established a good relationship with police and the police chief in my hometown. I’ve worked with officers to help get rid of problem neighbors in my neighborhood. My brother works in law enforcement and I have great respect for the difficult work they do.
But I’m afraid. I’m afraid of being in the wrong town at the wrong time and being pulled over by an officer who only sees me as a big black thug. I’m afraid of a miscommunication. I know that when speaking to an officer, I have to serve them up the whitest voice I can. I know I have to be calm. I know that no matter what’s gone on with me that day, I can’t be angry or rushed or frustrated. I know I have to move like I’m underwater. But lately I’ve been thinking, “Is that enough?”
But no one thinks they’re about to be pulled over and lose their life.
I’m not just afraid for me. I’m afraid for my brothers, who are the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. And I have nephews and friends I’m concerned about. I have a grandson who is growing like a weed. By the time he starts high school, he’s probably going to be at least 6 feet tall and 225 lbs. Gentlest kid.
To others he could just be seen as a big minority thug.
We hadn’t even had time to process these horrific cases before the horror in Dallas, Texas unfolded. There is no justification for shooting and killing the first responders sworn to protect the public. An attack on police is an attack on society. To think there’s any justice in taking the lives of innocent people in retribution is madness. Society cannot function in an anarchic state. No matter the problems we have with police shootings or brutality, officers provide us that thin blue line against anarchy. We can’t have chaos. We can’t have anarchy and violence, arson and looting as a response to any injustice. It’s wrong. It turns a tense, horrible situation into something even worse. And our hearts have to go out to the family of the officers murdered and wounded.
I’d love for this to be some kind of turning point. I want this to result in something positive. But looking at social media, one sees an interesting phenomena. People whose “give a damn” was broken in the aftermath of the Sterling and Castile shootings are suddenly outraged and grieving the loss of the officers in Dallas. The same people who sat in stony silence after two questionable shootings now find their voice. If the only time you’ve felt like shedding a tear this week is after Dallas, then you’re not part of the solution. This is why #BlackLivesMatter exists.
It doesn’t exist for black people to get outraged by questionable shootings. When a young man is shot in the presence of his girlfriend and the 4-year-old girl he’s a father figure to by what seems to be an overzealous officer, everyone’s heart should break. But it doesn’t. Too often a black man being shot by police means the officer was justified and the victim was a thug.
We need more than outrage. We need better training. We need officers who know how to deescalate situations. We need more transparency. It doesn’t matter if we have a bunch of great cops if they still cover for the bad apples. We need more community policing. We need to build bridges of trust between the police and the communities they serve. It’s going to require everyone to reach out to make things better. Communities have to work with police to keep streets safe.
We’ve got to build bridges… or we’re going to burn them.