Friday, July 8, 2016

Sadness Rules the Week

I am sad. As an American citizen, I am sad. As a father of mixed-race children, I am sad. As someone who has, time and again, fallen into the trap of mistakenly believing that things have gotten better, I am sad. As a human being, I am sad.

A few days ago, there was another police shooting. And then another. Both of them weighed heavily on me. The videos were heartbreaking to watch. And then Dallas. The city has added another high-profile sniping to its history. And then there was another shooting, one people aren't even really talking about, in Tennessee. Everyone is shooting at each other, all for no good reason, it seems.

I can't say what happened in either of the two police shootings, but I can say that I doubt death was a necessary outcome in either case. It rarely is. Two men are dead, one shot in front of a four-year-old. Several children have instantly become fatherless. And what good has come of it?

I don't believe the police go into these situations with the intention of killing black people. They're not intentionally assassinating people. But I do believe that, when they see a black face, it gets their guard up. They are quicker to draw a weapon, quicker to assume that they themselves are in danger. I do believe that they react out of a genuine sense of being in danger.

But there are two problems. One is that that sense of danger is probably overblown in the vast majority of cases. The other is that, in far too many cases, the police escalate rather than de-escalate a situation. Traffic stops should only ever result in deaths when there is a very clear and present danger, when a gun is pulled or there is an uncontested move to cause harm, not when an officer is merely scared.

Yes, that makes it more likely that an officer loses his life. But it makes it less likely that an innocent civilian does, and that should be the overarching goal. We don't live in some authoritarian state, and we need to remember that the police are agents of the government. They need to be better trained to use nonlethal methods, even when faced with lethal methods themselves. I know that the general rule is to always counter with a more lethal weapon, but lethality is rarely necessary. Guns don't have to be the first line of defense. By signing up for the job, a police officer knows the risks he or she faces. I don't have the guts to do their job, but they need to have the guts to do it.

A police officer's primary goal in any situation shouldn't be coming out of it alive. It should be upholding the law. Upon becoming police officers, that is their sworn duty, and they have to be willing to make the biggest sacrifices, including their own lives, for it. That's what is so amazing about so many police officers - they are willing to put themselves in the line of fire in order to protect others.

I look at my own kids, and I know that they have to be a little more careful if they're ever pulled over, in a way that I wouldn't, simply because of their mixed heritage. That's not how things should be, ever.

Others have made the arguments I'm attempting far more eloquently than I can, so I'll move on to the next notch: Dallas.

What happened there was devastating. The protest event going on was a model of how police and community members should be, united against crime and wrongdoing. By all accounts, it was a peaceful and dignified protest going on. Then some maniac with a warped mind gets the idea that he's doing some kind of good by unleashing a hail of bullets. Something people who do such things need to realize is that, when you do this, you hurt your cause. A peaceful protest works because it gives your enemies nothing to latch onto as wrong. Violence allows them to equate your cause with your violence, drowning out any positive messages your group is trying to make.

Maybe it was inevitable that someone would snap, given the lack of justice in so many previous cases. But it doesn't have to be like this. It doesn't have to be one side trading shots with the other. There don't have to be sides, even. Don't we all (mostly, anyway) want to have peace? Don't we all want to be able to do our jobs or ride in cars or stand around outside without worrying that someone will kill us for it?

Again, others have made this point far more eloquently than I can - foremost among them, Dr. King himself, whose justly over-quoted quote I will end with:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

If only we could take that in and process it and truly understand the wisdom of it...

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