Last week was yet another week that tore at the very fibre of America.
After two videos emerged showing the gruesome killings of two black men by police officers, one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the other in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a black man shot and killed five officers, and wounded nine more people, in a cowardly ambush at an otherwise peaceful protest. The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, said, “He was upset about Black Lives Matter” and “about the recent police shootings” and “was upset at white people” and “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers”.
America seems caught in a cycle of escalating atrocities without an easy way out, without enough clear voices of calm, without tools for reduction, without resolutions that will satisfy. There is so much loss and pain. There are so many families whose hearts hurt for a loved one needlessly taken, never to be embraced again.
There is so much disintegrating trust, so much animosity stirring.
So many — too many — Americans now seem to be living with an ambient terror that someone is somehow targeting them.
Last Friday morning, after the Dallas shootings, my college-going daughter entered my room before heading out to her summer job. She hugged me and said: “Dad, I’m scared. Are you scared?” We talked about what had happened in the preceding days, and I tried to allay her fears and soothe her anxiety.
How does a father answer such a question? I’m still not sure I got it precisely right. Truth is, I am afraid. Not so much for my own safety, which is what my daughter was fretting about, but more for the country I love. This is not a level of stress and strain that a civil society can long endure. I feel numb, and anguished and heartbroken and I fear that I am far from alone.
And yet, I also fear that time is a requirement for remedy. We didn’t arrive at this place overnight and we won’t move on from it overnight. Centuries of policy in the United States, culture and tribalism are simply being revealed as the frothy tide of hagiographic history recedes. The American “ghettos” were created by policy and design. These areas of concentrated poverty became fertile ground for crime and violence. Municipalities used heavy police forces to try to cap that violence. Too often, aggressive policing began to feel like oppressive policing. Relationships between communities and cops became strained. A small number of criminals poisoned police beliefs about whole communities, and a small number of dishonourable officers poisoned communities’ beliefs about entire police forces. And then, too often the unimaginable happened and someone ended up dead at the hands of the police.
Since people have camera phones, we are actually seeing these deaths, live and in living colour. Now a terrorist with a racist worldview has taken it upon himself to co-opt a cause and mow down innocent officers. This is a time when communities, institutions, movements and even nations are tested. Will the people of moral clarity, good character and righteous cause be able to drown out the chorus of voices that seek to use each dead body as a societal wedge?
Will the people who can see clearly that there is no such thing as selective, discriminatory, exclusionary outrage and grieving when lives are taken, be heard above those who see every tragedy as a plus or minus for a cumulative argument?
Will the people who see both the protests over police killings and the killings of police officers as fundamentally about the value of life rise above those who see political opportunity in this arms race of atrocities?
These are very serious questions — soul-of-a-nation questions — that we dare not ignore.
We must see all unwarranted violence for what it is: A corrosion of culture.
I know well that when people speak of love and empathy and honour in the face of violence, it can feel like meeting hard power with soft, like there is inherent weakness in an approach that leans so heavily on things so ephemeral and even cliched.
But that is simply an illusion fostered by those of little faith.
Anger and vengeance and violence are exceedingly easy to access and almost effortlessly unleashed. The higher calling — the harder trial — is the belief in the ultimate moral justice and the inevitable victory of righteousness over wrong.
This requires an almost religious faith in fate and that can be hard for some to accept, but accept it we must.
The moment any person comes to accept as justifiable an act of violence upon another — whether physical, spiritual or otherwise — that person has already lost the moral battle, even if he is currently winning the somatic one.
When we all can see clearly that the ultimate goal is harmony and not hate, rectification and not retribution, we have a chance to see our way forward. But we all need to start here and now, by doing this simple thing: Seeing every person as fully human, deserving every day to make it home to the people he loves.
— New York Times News Service
Charles M. Blow is the author of Fire Shut Up in My Bones.