Missing the Boat
Be very careful. Any encounter with the police, whether shopping in a Walmart (John Crawford III), playing in a park with a toy gun (Tamir Rice), a broken taillight (Philando Castile), selling CD’s outside a convenience store (Alto Sterling), hawking loose cigarettes (Eric Garner), a missing license plate (Samuel DeBose), or a routine traffic stop (Lavar Jones, Sandra Bland and/or Walter Scott), can be fatal. Add Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald and Freddie Gray to the list and the manifest evil of the criminal justice system becomes all too apparent.
The murders of Mr’s Sterling and Castile are particularly chilling. Alto was shot while pinned to the ground, bestrode by two white officers. Philando was blasted in front of his girlfriend and her 4 year old daughter, while seated in his car and fully compliant with the demands of the arresting officers.
Hence, we should be outraged about their deaths. We should march, protest and demand justice. We should demand personal accountability of the officers, unethical prosecutors, obedient grand juries, complicit judges and sycophantic politicians. And we should be dismissive of an institution that is blatantly corrupt. We would be remiss not to. Still, we are missing the boat.
We do not suggest that ethnicity and skin color are irrelevant. They clearly are. Nor should racism be ignored. However, the focus on race does not move us forward.
Once the discussion turns to ethnicity, the conversation goes south. No one listens. We talk at rather than to one another in raised voices, angry tones and bitter acrimony.
Blackacre is persuaded that we cannot close the racial divide by talking it out. There are some dispute that can only be resolved by agreeing to disagree.
Moreover, all police officers receive the same training, belong to the same fraternity and heed the same cultural command of shoot first and ask questions later, no matter their color or ethnicity. Thus, African-Americans are not the only ones who are killed by the police, conventional wisdom notwithstanding. And black officers abuse black suspects with the same regularity as do their white brethren. Witness the Freddie Gray matter.
In fact, the officer that shot and killed Mr. Castile was reportedly a minority American. The dysfunctional relationship between the police and minority community is therefore a question of culture (theirs and ours), character, conduct, values and training more than race. And the reality of fear, them of us and we of them, cannot be ignored.
Second, we abandon the moral high ground far too easily and way too often. Such was the case with the Dallas sniper. His opening fire on a street full of African-Americans speaks volumes about his lack of concern for black lives. And the intention targeting of white officers purely because of their ethnicity makes him a virulent racist, no different than any other, including Dylann Roof who killed 9 people in a Charleston Church merely because of the color of their skin.
Even worse, the incident changed the narrative from the modern-day lynchings of African-Americans by the police to the criminal murder of law enforcement by what some believe are black Thugs, read the N-word. It fosters racism and gives cover to those who label BlackLivesMatter a terrorist organization. Moreover, it inspires copy cat killings and starts a war we have no hope of winning, militarily or politically.
The sniper is no more reflective of all African-Americans than rogue cops mirror the entirety of the police. Still, his murderous conduct damages our already fragile brand and taints our cause at the very moment we were winning the hearts and minds of America.
Lastly, we do not deflect from the problem of blacks and law enforcement. We have already conceded the moral bankruptcy of the criminal justice system. We also comprehend the political and social dynamics of race, guns, values, culture, the left-right, Republican-Democrat and city-county divide that cloud and distort the issue.
And we are more than aware of the discomfort this essay may cause. We therefore stand ready to face the inevitable backlash; the demand to walk back these comments, to relinquish our license to be black.
Nonetheless, we must jettison our habit of demanding the most of others while the least of ourselves, of focusing on what is comfortable rather than what is relevant. In one weekend alone, Chicago experienced 46 shootings resulting in 4 killings, two of which were of children.
These and other blacks killed by blacks are every bit as worthy of our tears, our marches, attention, protest and demands for justice as those killed by white police officers. Not all police are wrong or African-Americans right. All lives matter all the time and evil is evil, regardless its color, uniform, occupation or motive. This is where we most often miss the boat.
In conclusion, the dishonest of the legal system cannot be overstated. It is indeed a system that must be changed and quickly. But while desperate times calls for desperate measures, black lives will matter to no one until and unless they first matter to us.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum