We are at odds with each other only if we allow foolish people to think and speak for us.
The five police officers killed in Dallas on Thursday were not casualties in some fictitious “war on cops.” They were five honorable men and women, doing the most dangerous job in America, killed by a sniper who represented nobody but himself.
By the same token, questionable police-involved shootings of two African-American men just a few days earlier — one in Louisiana, the other in Minnesota — were by no means proof or confirmation that the police are the enemy of black people and other minorities, though we have heard that said often enough.
Yes, the fatal shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota have raised legitimate criticisms, once again, that African-Americans are not always treated the same by the police. The top elected official in Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton, said he doubted Philando Castile would have been shot had he been white. But survey after survey shows that show African-Americans, like other Americans, are damn glad to have the police patrolling their streets and answering their 911 calls.
It is possible to have tremendous regard for law enforcement and mourn the death of every officer killed in the line of duty, as we believe most Americans do, while still demanding the police be held to higher standards. We need not choose sides. We can stand with the police, as we must, and hold them accountable, too.
“There will be a temptation to let our anger harden our divisions,” U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said after the Dallas shootings, striking the right tone. “Let’s not let that happen. There’s going to be a temptation to let our anger send us further into our corners. Let’s not let that happen.”
Ryan even obliquely acknowledged the anger of police critics. “Every member of this body,” he said in remarks on the House floor, “wants a world in which people feel safe regardless of the color of their skin. And that’s not how people are feeling these days.”
It is not unwarranted feeling. The vast majority of interactions between the police and civilians go down reasonably enough, but there is compelling evidence the police are more likely to use force against an African American — and not just because blacks are more frequently involved in criminal activity. A study released Friday by the Center for Policing Equity, a New York-based think tank, concludes that although officers employ force in less than 2 percent of interactions with civilians, they are three times more likely to use force against blacks than against whites.
Gov. Bruce Rauner struck a similarly thoughtful and unifying note, also just hours after the Dallas shootings. He called the “ambush attack” on the officers “outrageous” and urged “respect and support” for the police. But at the same time, he made a point of saying, “The shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota that led to last night’s protests are deeply distressing.”
The measure of a leader often is found in what he or she says in the first hours of a crisis. While Ryan and Rauner rose to the occasion, plenty of others did not. Most notably, a former Illinois congressman who now hosts a radio show — why bother to name him — tweeted out: “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”
In truth, Thursday night’s march in Dallas, to protest the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, was markedly peaceful, so much so that police officers posed for smiling photos with protesters. The officers most certainly did not necessarily agree with all the protesters had to say, but they were there to defend the protesters’ right to say it. The cops were doing their job, and the protesters, in a way, were doing theirs.
It was a quintessentially American exercise in peaceable free speech. To blame the protest march for the sniper who hailed down death is absurd.
“The blame lies with the people who committed these vicious acts, and no one else,” Speaker Ryan also said Friday.
While we appreciate the Speaker’s good sense on this occasion, we can’t help but add that the blame for Dallas lies as well with our nation’s shamefully lax gun laws, which Ryan has done nothing serious to fix.
We’d like to give the final word to Dallas Police Chief David Brown, whose heart clearly was breaking Friday morning as he struggled to find something hopeful to say.
“All I know,” Chief Brown said, “is that this must stop, this divisiveness between the police and our citizens.”
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