Friday, July 08, 2016

Black Lives and Police Lives - Matter

Dallas Police respond after shots were fired at a Black Lives Matter rally (NYT)
I am going off script. I rarely comment on current events that do not impact the Jewish community directly. But I can’t help thinking about what happened last night in Dallas, Texas; the cause; and the repercussions of it.

Five police officers were murdered by a sniper. This happened during a peaceful demonstration by people from all walks of life that realize that there is bias in our society when it comes to black people. Even among those of us that profess to not have any. Racial prejudice is a fact of life in America whether we like it or not. And I don’t like it.

It is a fact that law enforcement and our judicial system are both harder on black people than they are on white people. I’m not so sure it is conscious. (Although I’m sure it is in some cases.) But I truly believe that when a black man stands before a judge or jury accused of a crime, he will often be seen differently by the people (black or white) judging him than if he were white.

When it comes to law enforcement, the consequences of such prejudice can be deadly. Because they have guns. We have seen this all too often. Police officers tend to treat black suspects like dangerous criminals far more frequently than white suspects. Thus applying more violent force to them when confronting them. 

Black people will get stopped more often than white people for traffic offenses – even minor ones – because they are black. It’s a phenomenon a black comedian once called being 'guilty of driving while black'. It got him a laugh. But it should have also made us think more about why our fellow human beings are being treated unfairly just because of their skin color.

I understand the slogan and cry of ‘Black Lives Matter’. Black people justifiably see themselves as not mattering to the police or to society. They are too often targeted by police  which results in the kind of tragedies we’ve experienced in recent times. Twice just this week black suspects were captured on video being shot and killed by police!

There are many people who might object to this slogan by insisting ‘All lives matter’.  Well, of course all lives matter. But black lives are the ones being targeted because of the biases we all carry. So I reject replacing that slogan with this one. And I fully understand all the anger and protests.

However, there has been an unexpected consequence of all this anger and protest against the police. Or maybe not so unexpected. We saw that consequence last night in Dallas.

There is not a soul in the world that would justify what those vicious criminals did last night. They killed 5 innocent people that were there for one reason only – to serve and protect the public. They were not racist. They were just  cops doing their job. They had families. Wives, children, mothers fathers, aunts and uncles… all grieving now! For what? Because some people inflamed by all of the black carnage by police needed revenge?! Because they wanted to send a message that if black lives don’t matter, neither do the lives of police?!

That is so sick! It is hardly any different than what ISIS does or inspires other to do. 

I had been worried about the result of all these protests – even while I understood the justifiable motivations for them. I worried that police all over the country would be negatively impacted and reticent to do their jobs, fearing that they might get caught is a situation like that. Which means criminals would be given an advantage they did not heretofore have. 

When the police start second guessing themselves for fear they might go too far in handling a criminal, going the other way is no solution. It will (and I believe already has in some communities) only increase the incidence of crime. 

Let’s face it. Many of the unjust deaths of black suspects at the hands of the police were not innocent bystanders. In almost every case the victim had a criminal record. Or was a suspect in a crime just carried out – often carrying a weapon. Yes - there were some exceptions where totally innocent black people were killed by police. But in most cases they were not upstanding citizens (to say the least). They had criminal records.

That in no way justified the killings. Any cop that kills someone unjustly must pay a price. But it puts into perspective what a cop now thinks about when apprehending suspects. And now because of some overzealous trigger happy cops - they will hesitate. Thus giving a criminal better chance to escape arrest and commit more crimes.

But I never expected the kind of reaction that happened in Dallas.

Why is all this happening? What are the causes?

What is lacking here in my view is education. Many common criminals - both black and white - have been raised in cultures that do not respect the law. These are young people that live in poverty and see the criminal element driving the big cars and leading the good life. They want a piece of that too and think criminal activity will get it for them..

Their environments provide substandard educations. And the youth are not motivated in any case to study and learn. So they end up on the street with no tools to support themselves other then very low paying jobs – if that.

They live in neighborhoods where drugs, violence, and shootings an every day occurrence. Criminal activity is the norm. Ask anyone that lives on the West Side of Chicago. It’s a wonder that anyone raised in a culture like this ends up normal. 

It takes a lot to pull yourself out of a life like that. Those that have been able to do that are amazing people. Role models of determination and hard work. But the impoverished youth of those neighborhoods do not see that as a realistic option. Unfortunately a lot of those neighborhoods are black. The chances of someone from that kind of neighborhood becoming a Condoleza or Susan Rice, or a Colin Powell, or a Barack Obama are pretty slim for most black ghetto children. The much easier alternative ends up being a life of crime. Or drugs. Or both. The heroes they see are not the Colin Powells. They are the street gangs that sell drugs and make big money. In other words the successful criminals.  

I don’t know how we change the paradigm. Pouring money into the school system will not motivate their youth to learn in a culture that does not value education. But something needs to be done. Because if it isn’t black lives will continue to not matter and we all pay a price for that.

That’s only step one. Step two is to disabuse all of us of our racial biases, both hidden and overt. We need to understand that all of humanity was created in the image of God. Not only white people. We need to understand the underlying problems that contribute to this bias and learn how to correct them.

Step three is to make sure that the police have the ability to do their jobs right and not fear being assassinated by a sniper’s bullet because of racial grievances. At the same time they too must be disabused of the racial prejudices of society  reflected in overly zealous and unfair treatment of black people. The key is balance.

The police have to be demoralized now. I think we have an obligation to show them how much we respect them and appreciate what they do for us. There is no better time than now. So the next time you see a cop, show him - or her - your appreciation. That is the least we can do. In fact I’d like to see massive rallies in cities all across America with signs that say 'Police Lives Matter.'