Just a few thoughts about these last awful days: First of all, it hardly needs to be said, but must be, that at the root of it all, is white racism. Whether or not the police officers in Baton Rouge or St. Paul were themselves racists or whether the killings of the young black men were even motivated by racism, white racism is nonetheless at the root of it.
Racism is not the same as prejudice. The definition of racism is “bias plus power equals racism.” A powerless person cannot be a racist. He or she may be prejudiced (making pre-judgments about others) or even a bigot. But a powerless person cannot be a racist…by definition. So, we live in a racist society where white people (white men, more specifically) have the power. When that is coupled with bias or prejudice, you have racism and a racist society.
Black people especially (among other people of color) are victims of this racism. They have been denied adequate housing and education, they have been denied employment opportunities, they have been denied their basic humanity. Most white people are afraid of black people, black men especially. They have become dehumanized.
Many police officers are afraid of black men, and are therefore hyper-vigilant when confronting a black person for some alleged violation of the law. I believe it is that fear, borne of generational racism, that is at the root of so many of the recent killings of black men by police officers.
Secondly, our society is awash in guns. We often think of white, redneck types as the most likely to “conceal and carry” but the epidemic of black on black murder on the South Side of Chicago makes it crystal clear that lots of black youth are carrying weapons as well these days. Both the recent victims, in Louisiana and Minnesota, were carrying handguns. One was apparently properly licensed, the other most likely was not. Does anyone seriously believe that the fear of a black man reaching for his weapon was not at the root of these police officers firing precipitously?
Now, we have another black man in Dallas who, enraged and full of hatred, used yet another gun, this time a high powered rifle (perhaps schooled by military training) to mow down and kill five innocent police officers, wounding others and some civilians as well. The bitter irony is that these officers were trying to protect the rights and safety of those who were protesting the actions of some of their fellow officers!
Think about this vicious cycle: Two young black men, victims of white racism all their lives, carry concealed handguns. Frightened (and perhaps angry) white cops, believing that these men might be going for those guns pump multiple rounds into their bodies, resulting in their deaths. People around the nation organize peaceful protests against this action and another black man, armed with a powerful weapon himself, slaughters five more.
Two concealed handguns, two police weapons, one (at least) long rifle. Seven innocent lives lost…needlessly…again.
What are we to do? Engage in the ongoing war against racism. Get to know your neighbor of color. Speak out against racist remarks and actions. Try to determine how the policies and positions of your elected officials (from city council to the presidency) serve to either advance or retard racism in our society and vote accordingly.
Secondly, do all you can to support efforts for effective gun control in this country. That will likely mean local and state efforts since the will to do something on the national level seems lacking. Of course such things as banning assault weapons, limiting magazine capacity, assuring that there are effective background checks on gun purchasers will not eliminate gun violence. But if there are no laws on the books, or if those laws are not being effectively enforced, then we have no way to prosecute those we do find in possession of these weapons of mass destruction. Saving one life, such as the ones we lost this week, would be worth it.
These are just initial thoughts, ramblings, I guess. We will all be processing this for weeks, months, years. Please, God, help us to do something about it. This time…