The slaughter of 5 policemen and 7 injured officers eventually became too much for me to wrap my mind around last night. I went to bed, long before the sniper – who had wreaked havoc on a peaceful demonstration in downtown Dallas – had been killed by police officers. Long before I knew one of the 5 dead officers was a newlywed, or that would be at least three prayer vigils scheduled today. I went to bed, with a heavy heart, because this really doesn’t happen in Dallas.
And then as the day went on, I had several reminders, on which came from an employee who works with our prison reentry services, that there is no reason for it not to happen in Dallas. After all, we’re fooling ourselves if we don’t believe the anger, the hate, the lack of empathy for those not like us, don’t exist here…
Don’t get me wrong. By all accounts, the demonstration in protest of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, was indeed a peaceful affair. Our police department, by all appearances and reports, were admirable. I later heard that they had even help organize the protest. I’m sure that may happen in other areas of the country, but happened here in Dallas and the attitude of the police, their posture – and even their dress, no combat gear, no armor – helped put everyone at ease and diffused some of what may have been negative attitudes towards police in particular and the criminal justice system in particular.
By the time the shots rang out, the demonstration was over, the chaos, pain and tragically changed lives had just begun.
I don’t know that I have answers. I can’t take away the heartache, pain or fear of anyone involved in the demonstrations. There are only a few things I know…
We MUST get over our anger
The young sniper who took the lives and injured the bodies of police and bystanders, was a disturbed angry man. The extraordinary measures police took to stop him (a bomb held by a robot), brings to mind how one might destroy a rabid animal. He was a very sick, angry young man.
We have to deal with that. We’ve been hearing that white people are ‘angry’, as if they have a corner on the market of life not working out for them or their families the way they want. Black people are angry too! There’s nothing wrong with being angry. But we’ve got to deal with our angry constructively and in ways that recognize our common humanity.
I thought about another demonstration, nearly 50 years ago, the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. There were 250,000 people there who were tired of America’s embrace of racism and segregation. That embrace imperiled the lives of countless men, women and children and deprived heads of households from fulfilling their responsibility of providing for their families. You can’t tell me, no one among those 250,000 people wasn’t ‘angry’. But at the end of the day, everyone went home alive. We have to put our anger in perspective and understand neither our politics, our race, or our religion makes us enemies. We must deal constructively with our anger.
The other thing we must recognize, is that we cannot allow the assassination of five police officers and the injury of nearly seven more, to distract us from what brought people together in the first place. Alton Sterling is still dead; Philando Castile is still dead. As much as we may not want to deal with it, they are still dead at the hands of police. Neither appeared guilt of anything and their families are still grieving. And there is still a cry for justice.
We need to have better relations between minorities and police. The fact is that neither the police in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, didn’t help that cause. Neither did the young black man, who decided he wanted to kill white cops. We need to seek justice for Alton Sterling’s family and community and for Philando Castile’s family and community, and for the families of the five officers who died last night.
We cannot go on doing this to ourselves or one another. We need to be accountable, we need to be supportive, we need to stop the hate and the bigotry. Those of us who love God, need to be able to; find ways to express that love to one another. And, in times like these we need to comfort one another.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was in Indianapolis, Indiana and it was he who broke the news to the awaiting crowd that was overwhelmingly black. He used words that comforted that crowd and it is said, in Indianapolis, there were no riots that night.
Among his words of comfort, were these words from the Greek poet, Aeschylus, “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”
May we through our despair, against our wisdom, discover that awful, and dare I say, amazing, Grace…