There was a disturbing analysis in this morning’s New York Times, suggesting that, while the shootings of two men by police may have given more life and extra urgency to the Black Lives Matter movement a few days ago, the shootings of Dallas Police officers seems to have caused “the public” to make a 180 degree turn on the subject. I’m not saying they’re right, of course. In fact, given the current state of journalism, the odds are against it. However, even if they are only partly correct, it speaks to why we have such a difficult time addressing the problems we face as a nation.
First off, that these three high profile tragedies happened within the space of a few days does not warrant the phrase, “What is wrong with our country?” That doesn’t mean I think there is nothing wrong with the country. On the contrary, what is wrong with us is apparent. Not including police killings and the killings of police, if this week was average, more than 2,000 people were shot and more than 600 died from gunshot wounds. Our country has been turned into an armed camp and too many Americans believe that guns solve all safety problems. That’s one problem.
There is also still a serious vein of racism in this country. A friend of mine from another country was shocked when I noted that the other day, in part because we tend to project such a self-superior attitude when it comes to telling other countries how they should act. Frankly, to rational people, no country with our racism should be lecturing any other country on that. But the fact of the matter is, white people don’t trust People of Color at all. We are still largely a “white country” and those who are not white are too often seen as “other.” I wish I could say it’s just the overt racists in the South who were the problem, but I have personally seen liberals act the same way. When a group of four white teenagers comes toward you on the street and you just think they may be troublemakers and you may hold onto your purse more tightly or put your hand over your wallet, but if four black teens are walking toward you, you duck into a store, because they might try to kill you or at least rob you. Don’t deny it; it’s too common.
Third, most people who consume way too much “news” have a tendency to react to everything and to absorb that and adjust their life to it. They go straight into outrage mode and look for someone to blame, albeit never themselves. Nothing is ever done, beyond whining and crying and rubbing their hands and gnashing their teeth. They get outraged and choose a “messiah,” but they never actually DO anything. Black Lives Matter is an attempt to actually DO something about a serious problem, and to even begin to dismiss that just because of the tragic loss of Dallas Police officers makes one a hypocrite, pure and simple.
We have to solve all of our problems and we can’t do that if we’re bouncing off the walls like a pinball. Black Lives Matter is a civil rights movement. Like all other civil rights movements, we can’t be sidetracked by anything. It is not only possible to feel bad for the police officers who were shot AND outrage for the constant killing of black men by police, but it is also quite rational. The police take an oath to serve and protect and they should be held to a high standard in their job; certainly much higher than shooting an unarmed black man and facing no legal consequences, which seems to have become the norm, lately. At the same time, we as a society should appreciate our police and the job they have promised to do for us. We should mourn those who die needlessly and tragically. Everyone who died this week has a family and friends and they all feel a horrible loss. As humans, we should appreciate that more than we do.
Likewise, we must stop tolerating racism from anyone. No one can deny we’ve come a long way, to be sure, since 60 years ago, police were killing unarmed black men with impunity all over the country. And it wasn’t reported as news because it wasn’t news. No one cared. Treating People of Color as “other” was the norm at the time, and the vast majority of people just didn’t care. People thought nothing as black people were forced to sit in the back of the bus. No one cared whether the “colored” restroom was clean, as long as our “whites only” restroom was kept in tip-top shape. White people thought nothing of the fact that “colored” people were segregated into their own neighborhoods or to their own schools, hotels, restaurants and retail stores. Now, at least overt racism sparks outrage, faux or not, and even most white people are in favor of People of Color having equal rights, legally, even if they still treat them as if they’re aliens in other ways. In other words, the fact that cops killing black men sparks outrage at all speaks to a large measure of progress. It’s not enough, but we’re moving in the right direction.
We still have a long way to go, though. A LONG way to go. As a society, we have several civil rights movements happening at the same time and the fact that we all know how they will all end does not relieve us of a lot of responsibility in the meantime. LGBT people won’t just get their civil rights; we have to demand equal rights along with them. Can you imagine if the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s took a pause every time a tragedy happened? Likewise, police won’t just stop killing Black men, we have to work with Black people to demand it. And quite frankly, we should, anyway. Police are given a lot of power, which means they also have an awesome responsibility to use that power responsibly. If we allow them to kill Black men indiscriminately, we are also giving them the power to shoot anyone indiscriminately. There is only one time a police officer should be allowed to kill someone, and that is when loss of his life is imminent. Period. If we just assume every killing is justified unless there are extenuating circumstances, that is too low a bar.
As for the gun problem, we will be addressing that a lot on this Network, but suffice it to say, we do have to not only deal with the guns, we also have to do something about the notion that so many people have, that guns solve problems. They don’t. Shooting and killing anyone should be an absolute last resort; there is no way a gun should be used to quell an annoyance; taking life should be a more serious issue than it seems to be.
Black Lives Matter is a very serious movement for all of us. It’s about what we believe our country should be. We have to deal with it, no matter what.