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Friday, July 8, 2016

Tragedy in Dallas - and Across America

Those of us who go to bed a bit earlier than others awoke this morning to the news of tragedy in Dallas, as five police officers were killed by sniper fire. At least seven other officers and two civilians were wounded in the attack, which took place during a Black Lives Matter protest in response to police killings of two unarmed black men - one in Baton Rouge, LA and another in suburban St. Paul, MN - over the previous 48 hours.

Reactions to the news are largely predictable. Supporters of law enforcement, especially their families and friends, will rightly decry the attacks for the cowardly acts they were. Those outraged by the seemingly growing police misconduct across our country will rightly ask why the murder of these police officers receives more compassion from the community - especially the white community - than the murders of people of color by police officers. Hash tags and tempers will fly, posturing will abound, statements from the sublime to the ridiculous will be made, and little will change until we see that there can be more than one right answer to any question. The truth is that we need to move beyond dualistic thinking if we hope solve any complex problem we face. The answer isn't either-or, but rather both-and.

It is tragic when police officers kill unarmed people and it is tragic when police officers are killed. It is an absolutely cowardly act to kill people with sniper fire in a civilian setting and it is completely predictable that such a thing will happen when the society continues to ignore discrimination and lynching - and let's be clear, the murders of men of color in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and dozens of other places were nothing more than lynchings - at the hands of anyone, but most especially representatives of the government. Put more simply, you cannot legitimately be surprised when after throwing a number of lit matches onto a gasoline-soaked pile of wood it bursts into flames - yet that seems to be our reaction to tragedies like the Dallas sniper attacks!

Clearly, we need a new approach. We need to stop running as fast as we can to the two extremes put forth, that we either support police or support people of color, standing at those extremes and spitting vitriol at each other. We need to find a way to work together, but I don't believe that will happen until some of us take the first step. To be honest, I am not a fan of Black Lives Matter because the truth is that all people of color are the victims of police - and societal - discrimination. Don't Brown Lives Matter? Yellow Lives? Red Lives? Gay Lives? All those groups and more are the victims of the same discrimination that Black people face, and I believe that needs to be acknowledged. That being said, I believe it is a movement that isn't going to go away and that is probably a good thing because at some point even a movement based on a flawed concept is better than no movement at all. To be equally honest, I have occasion to regularly drive by a home with an "I support the badge" yard sign on display, and I find myself wondering why they don't just hang a confederate flag on their porch and a makeshift noose from their doorpost. One of the questions I haven't seen addressed, which doesn't mean nobody has addressed it, is when did it become acceptable for police to deploy robot bombs against civilians?

Have you ever seen a yard sign, bumper sticker, or hash tag that says, "I support a solution"? Of course you haven't, because America seems to be all about assigning blame rather than making substantive change. Once we can establish to our own satisfaction that we have identified who is to blame, we seem to feel no need to change anything. It is as if an arsonist burned our house down and we found the person responsible so we feel no need to rebuild our house! If that sounds absurd when talking about a building, why don't we seem to feel the need when it comes to our societal infrastructure and systems?

We obviously need substantive change, but to achieve that goal we are going to have to find a way to work together to make it happen. While we need to move forward just as fast as we can, we also need to acknowledge that change will not happen overnight. We will need to replace elected officials who don't see the need for change. We will need to protest, non-violently and continually, and agitate for change. We will need to demand justice. We will need to be relentless. One thing we cannot do is allow those in power to continually divide us into two opposing camps and thereby neutralize our power.