By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
It’s a shame that it took the senseless murder of five innocent white Dallas police officers to ignite the first serious conversation on race in America in decades.
Be honest. You know if it was still “just” the continuous police beatings, killings and mistreatment of African Americans, we would still be silent. But after what may have been the most painfully violent, emotionally crushing, intensely frustrating weeks since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – people are talking.
It would be wonderful if it could be reported that the discussions were all good, fruitful and promising. That would be a lie. There are persistent remnants of Jim Crow mentality that insist on blaming the victim no matter what. We just have to accept that. But the point is many people and most media are trying to at least acknowledge, examine and understand the pain of the long-suffering oppressed.
It’s only a beginning but it’s a start. And fortunately, it starts from the top. The president is charged with being too compromising in his stance by those angriest at the oppression. Conversely, those defending the status quo accuse President Obama of facilitating anti-establishment (police) contempt. In actuality, President Obama condemned the attacks on the officers.
“Whenever those of us who are concerned about fairness in the criminal justice system attack police officers, you are doing a disservice to the cause. First of all, any violence directed at police officers is a reprehensible crime and needs to be prosecuted. But even rhetorically, if we paint police with a broad brush, without recognizing that the vast majority of police officers are doing a really good job and are trying to protect people and do so fairly … then we’re going to lose allies in the reform cause.”
The president also said it would be wrong to paint Black Lives Matter activists with a similarly broad brush.
“I don’t think that you can hold well-meaning activists who are doing the right thing and peacefully protesting responsible for everything that is uttered at a protest site,” Obama said. “The overwhelming majority of people who are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, what they really want to see is a better relationship between the police and the community so that they can feel that it’s serving them. And the best way to do that is to bring allies forward.”
While most view the aftermath of these tragedies as opportunities for a nation to heal, there are those who pour salt into the wounds. A former New York mayor calls Black Lives Matter criminal, a white former congressman declares war on BLM and urged President Obama to be on his guard.
The presumptive GOP presidential candidate seized the moment to try to rebrand his disastrous campaign as the “law and order” candidacy. The last chief executive who trumpeted that theme – placing Black America squarely in the cross hairs – left the White House in disgraced.
No one knows where the discussion is going. But the unmistakable reality is that before the police were killed, most of America was indifferent. Now there’s at least a chance for change. But understanding is a road filled with intellectual and ethnic land mines; a test of our nation’s capacity to stray away from our comfort zones without fear of judgment, reprisal or condemnation.
Whether we will be “all talk” as a nation, or turn tragedy into a seminal moment of humanity and understanding will rely on application of concise and pervasive strategies, empathetic and realistic objectives, timetables that reflect urgency and strict accountability.
Whether cynic or dreamer, these events spur deep introspection and a feeling that it won’t be so easy to casually revert to business as usual.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.