The Black White Divide: Sadness and Hope in Dallas

The recent shooting deaths of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota by white police in extremely questionable circumstances and then the vengeance killings of five white policemen and the injury to several others in Dallas Thursday attests, despite steady progress over the past 50 years, our ongoing failure to surpass our long standing racial divide.

While cable chatter is brimming with coverage of these issues and speculation about what could and should be done the plain truth is whatever positive changes can be made regarding this divide will be small and incremental and satisfying to no one in the short run.  That’s the way it has been and will be, but there is still hope.

We are continuing to pay the price of the Faustian pact that underlies the birth of our United States, that to come together as a nation back in the 1700s required that slavery be tolerated.  There would be no United States had the founders not allowed for it, because the Southern states would have rebelled, as they later did.  Most of the founders saw slavery as something that would evolve out of existence, or should I say that was their hope.

It took a civil war to decide the issue, but the results were far from perfect and we continue to try to get it right in imperfect ways.

It boils down to blacks being treated differently by police than whites.  Festering anger in black communities is because of that or the perception of that.  Numerous studies support the assertion that blacks are treated more often with excessive force than whites.  We could consider higher arrest and conviction rates, too, but that gets too complicated for this short post.

At an individual level it is the norm for black parents to have “the talk” with their children, emphasizing the danger of not acting carefully and politely if stopped by the police.  For you fellow whites out there, “the talk” for us more likely means the one about the birds and the bees.

I try to imagine the movement towards bridging the divide between blacks and whites and the most concrete results seem likely to stem from developing better relationships between the police of any given city and their black and Latino minority populations, what is called “community policing.”  I know you have heard it all before, many times as it has been mouthed by many over the years and progress has been uneven and slow.

However, it is heartening that this Dallas police department is arguably the best in the nation in terms of community policing and, according to Police Chief David Brown, the best department in the country overall.  In a press conference this morning he listed various impressive statistics  including a 60% decline over the last six years in excessive-force complaints.

How ironic is that?  That the shooter would take his anger out on the very department that seems to have been doing its utmost to reach out to people like him.  He murdered  police officers who were helping to keep peaceful protestors safe.

The best thing I can envision coming out of this tragedy is for other cities to pay closer attention to the Dallas form of policing because it clearly has worked, despite the exception of this apparently demented shooter whose life goal came down to killing as many whites as possible.  That could happen anywhere.

Unfortunately, the shooter developed his hatred apparently unaffected by the wise words of Martin Luther King:  “That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind.”

In sharp contrast Police Chief David Brown looks like he can see clearly.   Perhaps he and the citizens of Dallas can help the rest of us see better.


P. S. – A recent article by Radley Balko in the Washington Post describes Brown’s work in Dallas.  Balko praises the work overall but fears unrest will prompt authoritarian reactions rather than reformist ones.   I can only hope he is wrong about that.

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