Whether it be in a relationship, a family or society, understanding is a critical component for success. Understanding encompasses consideration, sympathy, tolerance and compassion.
In our non-post-racial society, we are in dire need of a spirit of understanding to predominate in our civic life. The heartbreaking loss of seven innocent lives within a 72-hour span last week, and the manner in which those lives were taken, attest to how vitally we need to foster and incorporate understanding.
As many were justifiably mystified and heartbroken at the taking of the lives of two black men by police — one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the other in St. Paul, Minnesota, within 24 hours — we were heartbroken and horrified at the mass killing of five Dallas police officers and the wounding of several others. The gunman in the Dallas shooting stated he wanted to exact retribution upon white police officers.
Having celebrated the nation’s 240th birthday just a few days before this terrible series of tragedies began to unfold, the ghosts of our nation’s racial past became menacingly present.
Each life taken was valuable and important. All seven should be alive today.
In a recent conversation with an older black man I know very well, who was in the Marines during the Vietnam Era, he compellingly related to me how the anger and defiance evidenced by younger blacks today seems eerily reminiscent of that displayed by some younger blacks in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. He spoke from experience because during that time he became a member of a black radical group called the Mau Mau (they named themselves after the Mau Mau rebels fighting for Kenyan independence from the British in the ‘50s and ‘60s).
He related how he was introduced to and inducted into this secret group after joining the Marine Corps. The group had been forged in the jungles of Vietnam. It had as one of its core ideals an explicit hatred of whites and a desire to do them harm.
He stated how the concept of nonviolence was viewed as farcical and a waste of time because, they believed, United States society would never fully treat blacks on an equal level as whites willingly, or out of some grandiose commitment to democratic ideals. He related how he and many others were young, angry and determined. Getting out of the military and that radical environment, along with the intervention and pull of family and faith upon his life, positively altered the arc and trajectory of his life.
He said he sees that same loss of faith in the country’s stated beliefs and same level of anger brewing among many young blacks today. Understanding is desperately needed at this time.
Though it may be hard for some to comprehend — or be quickly dismissed or explained away by others — America does have an acute problem with the alarming number of men of color who are killed in encounters with the police. It’s an issue, among others, that desperately needs to be addressed and rectified if we are to thwart this growing sense of resentment and loss of faith in our institutions. We collectively have to own up to it and effectively address it.
As President Barack Obama rightly noted, “This is not just a black issue, not just a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue that we all should care about.”
Conversely, striking the right balance and trying to promote a deep sense of understanding, President Obama unequivocally noted after the attack in Dallas: “There is no possible justification for these kinds of attacks or any violence against law enforcement.”
What makes the attack in Dallas even more tragic is that the department there is known as being a very progressive agency. The police leadership has implemented quite a few initiatives to build bridges to and work with the community, particularly in impoverished areas.
Again, understanding is key because actions of abuse, misconduct or incompetence are often not indicative of a systemic problem (one that’s cultivated, pervasive and protected throughout a whole police department) but more the actions of individual officers. That is not to say there aren’t departments with systemic issues — because there are — but more often than not it’s the actions of a few that taint the many. In painting with a broad brush we unfairly taint the many good who wear the uniform.
I believe this is what’s happening in Mobile. Yes, there are some very serious questions around the shooting of Michael Moore that need to be answered. Investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI are being conducted to get to the bottom of what happened. I believe these two agencies will be diligent in getting to the truth of what happened, and forthright about revealing the facts so that the appropriate actions can be taken and justice served.
Last year I wrote a column titled “A paradigm shift in law enforcement” detailing MPD’s shift away from measures such as roadblocks and large sweeps in high-crime areas to more targeted policing, and also to programs that have tried to build inroads and relationships within critical areas of our community. The new leadership has adopted and really tried to put in place progressive, transformational policing practices.
As we now see, it’s incumbent upon leaders from all sides and various levels to ensure their words and actions promote a spirit of understanding. If not, we risk tearing ourselves apart.