Have we turned a corner in our country when a local newspaper runs a Sunday column headlined “A summary of recent violence,” making it seem that it will be a regular feature recounting the preceding week’s most noteworthy atrocities?
The police shootings of two black motorists, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minnesota, followed by the murders of five Dallas police officers and seven others, appears to have stunned the country – again. That it comes less than four weeks after the massacre at the Orlando nightclub makes one wonder if our reaction to unspeakable violence is becoming routine – we are initially horrified, move on, then have the same reaction the next time.
It is not routine, of course, for the families and friends of the victims. Nor is it routine for those who are in the targeted groups, whether they be black citizens or police officers.
On the morning of the Dallas shootings, I was listening to an On Point program on NPR devoted to the deaths in Baton Rouge and Minnesota. One caller in particular struck a chord. He was black (I assume) and emotional. Part of the emotion was a feeling of deep hurt that this is happening in the America of 2016. It is a hurt that we can hear in so many voices of African-Americans who had hoped that these feelings would become a thing of the past.
The other emotion was anger, and it was an anger that I thought could be a harbinger of horrible consequences. In less than 24 hours I witnessed what those consequences could be.
By all reported accounts, the Dallas Police Department – whose chief is black – has made significant efforts to work with the community they police to become part of that community. One of the poignant images taken that day before the shootings was of two officers, one black and one white, standing on each side of a demonstrator. All were smiling.
We can hope that the week’s events can become a catalyst for reconciliation. As a white man, I can say that I have never been concerned for my safety when stopped for a traffic violation. One would have to be exceptionally obtuse to realize why that is not the same experience for someone who is black.
I also never feared that I may not be going home from my job, a feeling a cop must experience every time he or she puts on a uniform.
That reconciliation is not going to happen, however, as long as the so-called leaders in politics and the media continue to use every tragedy as an opportunity to score points advancing their own agenda. But it’s also not going to happen until ordinary citizens start pushing for a changed America. We can all start by vocally rejecting the bilious nonsense being spouted by our most noxious figures that accompanies every tragedy.