The chasm between white and black views of racism widens. The perspectives from which Americans are viewing the drama playing out between police officers and some members of the black community on city streets and in neighborhoods move further away from each other. Each side looks at the spectacle from a different frame of mind, and the intellectual editing produces divergent understandings and feelings.
The politician Hillary Clinton, whose currency of falsehood and deception anchored in her selfish interests and self-absorption, and the profoundly superficial media that craves explosive stories and moralizations, exacerbate the conflict with their pious platitudes, race-baiting, and incendiary reporting and commentary.
What is happening in Charlotte, North Carolina, stands out as a perfect example. The cacophonous and premature protests drown out reason and sober investigation. The story about the protests eclipses the story of a police shooting. Without any investigatory results, the screecher Hillary Clinton pours flames on the crowds’ fires and declares that the shootings of black people are intolerable. She wants to appear the moral judge, even as she issues a verdict before all the facts are known. Will she retract her statements for all the cases about which she is wrong?
What Clinton does and says compromises the effort to create a society and a body politic not merely free of racism but one of citizens who hold and behave toward each other with genuine goodwill and equity.
That’s where some of the problem lies. It lies in the phraseology and the imagery often used. Who wants to object to the “shootings” or the “killings of black people”? I don’t. Does the phrase not seem to imply that police officers drive around looking for black people to pick off? Yes, phrased in that way, I object and refuse to tolerate the shootings or killings of black people, walking by the street, getting out of their cars to walk up the path to the front doors of their homes, shopping, getting an ice cream cone at the drive-through window of Dairy Queen, strolling through the park, etc. In fact, I object to and will not tolerate the shootings or killings of anyone engaged in such activities.
Let’s change the phrasing. Should we tolerate those instances in which police shoot people engaged in criminal activity, particularly violent criminal activity, when they are black? When a person attacks a police officer, leaves, and returns to attack him again, and that person happens to be black, does the police officer have the right and the duty to shoot him? When the police ask a citizen to exit his vehicle with his hands in the air or clasped behind his head, and instead he exits his vehicle with his fist wrapped around a gun, does the police officer have the right and the duty to shoot him, whether he is black or not?
Is not the blame for the situations just described squarely on the shoulders of the person who made the decision to attack or threaten to attack?
Sometimes, perhaps many times, a predisposition to ascribe police actions to racism itself produces racism in the person who feels that way. The converse remains true, too. White people often hold an emotional view of black people that effects and confirms the violent characteristics they just “know” exist in “those people”, and nature’s Oedipus effect generates the self-fulfilling prophecy to which such people clung.
This may have been the principle that operated in the case of a South Carolina state trooper in 2014 who shot a 35-year-old man, who was black, as the man complied with the officer’s command to get his license, and in the case of a deputy in North Charleston who shot and killed a black man as the black man ran away from him during a traffic stop. The former was arrested and charged with what appears to be the most serious form of aggravated battery under South Carolina law (the victim recovered, and the charge carries a maximum 20-year sentence upon conviction). The latter was arrested and charged with murder.
In spite of appearances, every case should be soberly and fully investigated. Every case should be soberly and equitably prosecuted, without passion or prejudice. The process and the verdict should conform to law, and the law should conform, in my opinion as best as possible, to a higher integrity. The presumption is innocence, whether the defendant is black, a police officer, oriental, Middle Eastern, a Ku Klux Klanner, a black panther, a creepy looking fellow, a person with a disreputable or disagreeable personality, a Muslim, a communist, rich, poor, or somewhere in between, etc.
We need – all of us – to live up to the standards embedded in our Declaration and in our Constitution, standards we claim to cherish. We may need to discover some synthesis or refinement of those moral and legal principles that most everyone can accept and support and live with; not a perfect synthesis, but an acceptable and supportable one that contains shared ideals. Then, we have to start living those standards in our hearts, in our minds, with our tongues, and with our actions.
If the protests are meant to push for a lively, open, and honest debate from all sides about racial attitudes, let them be kept peaceful, and let us heed the protests and get to work. If the protests are little more than police baiting or an opportunity to engage in or support criminal activity, then conflict will ensue and discussion be derailed. In the latter case, the chasm would only grow.
Both sides, or the many sides, have the obligation to come to the table and listen. Both have truths to convey and both have illusions to dispel. While I reject the notion of “white privilege”, I do accept the notion that more whites have enjoyed a more advantageous position in American social, political, legal, and economic structures and more blacks a less advantageous one.
I would be classified as “white” (I am half Hispanic and half Celtic), so I will say this: It is incumbent in a special sense for we whites not to blow this opportunity to help bridge the racial divide and heal this nation’s wounds. We’ve been patching them up for too long. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., appealed to white people through our faith, the Western faith, of Christianity and our Western philosophy of the Greeks and Romans via the Renaissance with great power and eloquence. We rewarded him with disdain, twisted our own faith to accommodate our biases and bigotries, and we attempted to discredit Dr. King by labeling him a communist and an adulterer.
It makes no difference whether he was or wasn’t. If you can find a perfect man outside of Jesus Christ (and some would disagree with me there), please let me know. We have accepted or allowed plenty of blemished leaders, even among our Founding Fathers. The question is whether Dr. King spoke truth and love and reason. Did he have America’s best interests at heart? He did, and we foolishly and mulishly rejected his pleadings for peace, equality, and unity.
In spite of our foolishness and mulishness, we made progress. We elected a black president. More blacks than ever are involved in political bodies across the nation and nationally and in our economic, legal, and social structures. While this is good, some stress too much the quantity of blacks involved or black involvement. What has really been missing is the quality of our civic life. Races will relate well and equality be achieved when hearts are right and goodwill is expressed routinely. When that happens, the effects will be more profound and longer lasting.