Column: Prejudice, but also a no-win situation
Talk, talk, talk. I feel compelled to write about the deaths in Dallas and the deaths that stirred the protests there in the first place because it’s what needs to be addressed, but I don’t even want to. For all my words and the similar words from a thousand other media sources, it won’t mean a thing if we don’t change circumstances.
We feel compassion for the families of the officers, and for the families of those who lost loved ones in confrontations with police.
While it’s not proper to judge any given case, because very few have full video and audio from beginning to end, with all the right angles where nothing is hidden and we can know every detail, but it’s not necessary. It’s obvious that racism is common. It finds its way into everything, including many police departments. (The AP reports that the man pulled over and shot in Minneapolis had been pulled over more than 50 times in recent years, for minor things like a tail light or a seat belt.)
Compound the racism with our putting police in difficult situations. We have neighborhoods with starkly different expectations of what their lives can be. Areas where our economic problems, compounded by racism, create a concentration of desperation, thwarted options, and some turning to crime. We have whole groups of people who we childishly categorize by their looks, who frequently get turned down for the job, denied the house, pulled over more quickly. We declare war on drugs, make the stakes desperately high with long prison terms, and then ask the police to be both nice officers and warriors in a gun zone. Then we flood the country with guns so they never know whether this will be a calm traffic stop or the time when an armor-piercing automatic comes out at them. Officers on hair triggers who, from their own experience, and some from their prejudice, overreact, and citizens who, from their experience, have learned that the police may be their enemy and react that way.
It’s ugly. It’s all ugly. No violence is justified, but we cannot expect from such an ugly brew of circumstances anything but ugly results.
And it’s a broken record. One that will keep repeating, and probably get worse, until it is replaced. Everything I’ve written here I could point back to recent columns that made similar points. It does little good for some of us citizens to have open eyes that see the problems if there is no change.
What’s wrong is not a mystery. What needs to be done is not a mystery. It’s not rocket science. It’s not words, words, words. It’s the actions that mean more than words. From a less predatory economy, to less racism among us all, to sensible policies on drugs and on guns, to not expecting police to be a miraculous fix. We can’t create this brew of ugly circumstances and then just put an officer between it and ourselves and expect everything to be okay. It’s not okay. Not okay to expect that of them.
We don’t need police to keep down the bad people. We need a different brew of circumstances that doesn’t create so many bad results. Nobody, not Black Lives Matter, not the police, have a chance of coming out well in such ugly conditions.
What needs to change is laws, is culture, is the leadership we choose, is our own subtle racism, and our confronting the overt racism of those we work or live with. What needs to change is that we stop accepting the circumstances created by those overt racists, and by the greedy, and by fools. The price is too high. The damage intolerable.
Either nothing will change, or it could all change quickly if enough of us decide to stop tolerating racism, and stop accepting the ugly situation imposed by those we allow to lead us.
If not? Well, then I’ll be back here to commiserate with you, the next time it happens.
Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at tomcantlon.com.