For three days in a week, we woke up, read the reports, and wept over fresh news of violent, needless death.
On Tuesday, Alton Sterling, an African American in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was shot to death by police while apparently already pinned to the ground.
On Wednesday, Philando Castile, in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, was pulled over for a broken taillight and shot when, according to his girlfriend, he was reaching for his wallet to comply with an officer’s request to see his ID.
And on Thursday night, five Dallas officers were assassinated by an African American veteran in a fit of blind rage after a peaceful, multiracial demonstration against police shootings of black people.
There is a logic behind the term “blind rage” — the assassin’s rage blinded him to the way he has made the deeply troubled relationship between black people and the police immeasurably worse and thereby likely endangered more black lives.
Philando Castile was the 123rd black person killed by police so far this year.
Videos bring incidents to light
Police shootings of black people were going on for a long time before cellphones had cameras that recorded them. It has been only two years since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, put this issue on the national agenda.
This is not to say that the police are at fault in all these shootings, or that police are responsible for the sad state of race relations in this country.
The bloodshed of the past week is the result of a country so awash in guns we are in danger of becoming numbed to gun violence.
But it is also the bitter fruit of 500 years of history — of slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, segregation, and discrimination in housing and jobs that left generation after generation of black Americans in deep poverty. And it is the result of the ignorance of this history and its impact among much of the American public.
It is also the result of underfunded and inferior schools in black neighborhoods that doom far too many of today’s black children to becoming tomorrow’s underemployed working poor if they’re lucky, and tomorrow’s inmates in our nations jails and prisons if they’re not.
President Obama addressed this in a speech last week. The shootings, he said, are “symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system. … African Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over. After being pulled over, African Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year, African Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites. … They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.”
President supports law enforcement
But although Obama was clear in his call for criminal justice reform, he was equally clear that he remains steadfast in his support for law enforcement officers who act with courage and honor to protect and serve their communities.
That support will be needed in Dallas. The vicious insanity of the shooting of nearly a dozen police has left that entire city in shock. The Dallas police force is led by a black police chief, and has a history of better race relations and less police use of force than most American cities. When the first shots rang out, the police force’s first action was to protect the peaceful demonstrators from harm.
An equal measure of support for our grieving police and our grieving black community is also warranted here in Thurston County.
We are fortunate to have progressive police chiefs and police forces in Thurston County who are actively working to excise bias and provide fair and impartial policing.
We are fortunate to have the leadership of the Thurston Black Alliance, which has led difficult but productive community conversations about race, and which is working to reform a state law that makes it virtually impossible to prosecute wrongful use of police force.
We are fortunate to have collaborative leaders in Thurston county who are working on a variety of reforms to our criminal justice system to make it fairer and smarter.
As President Obama said about this week’s carnage, “People of goodwill can do better.”
Our community can be a leader in doing better, because we’ve already started on this path.
What the events of last week tell us is that we need to go deeper, further and faster.