Race talk spurred by recent shootings must be ongoing conversation

Joseph Scott holds a sign outside the memorial for fallen Dallas officers in downtown Dallas, Tuesday, July 12, 2016. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Joseph Scott holds a sign outside the memorial for fallen Dallas officers in downtown Dallas, Tuesday, July 12, 2016. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

With the recent tragic killings in this country —including the killings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota and the death of five police officers in Dallas—  the topic of race has become more prominent.

People are talking, and it’s not just people of color who are taking to social media to be heard. People from all walks of life are joining the much-needed conversation on race. And that’s important.

Though many are calling for positive change, there are still those who spew expected and tired divisive rhetoric, including sadly, some state leaders. Still, the conversations have become more diverse since last week’s shootings. The evidence is all over the internet. Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Asians — all talking about the same thing: unity and ending police brutality. Here in Central Texas, some have taken to writing their local newspapers, including Kimmie Fink, an education consultant in Temple. (Find the short op-ed she sent to Statesman Viewpoints below).

All this talk about creating a more just nation for all Americans is healthy. The key to real change, however, will be in keeping the conversation going long after the next issue steals the headlines.

The dialogue that has grown since the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and officers Brent Thompson, Lorne Ahrens, Michael J. Smith, Michael Krol and Patrick Zamarripa must continue. Otherwise, their deaths will have been in vain. Only by ending division can we truly honor their lives.

Some Central Texans have taken the time to send us correspondence to express these positive sentiments. Here are text from two letters received:

Fink’s full op-ed follows:

Kimmie Fink
Kimmie Fink

I keep hoping that someday I’ll wake up and not read about another Black American being killed by a police officer. Given recent events, that seems less and less likely. On Wednesday, July 5th, Alton Sterling was pinned to the ground by two White officers outside a Baton Rouge convenience store and shot in the chest at point-blank range. Just one day later, Philando Castile of Minnesota was fatally shot during a traffic stop while reaching for his identification. Sterling and Castile were murdered. Before we could even begin to mourn, five police officers were killed by snipers at a peaceful protest in Dallas the following day.

I am physically sickened by the horrific ambush on Dallas police, but I worry about how it will change the conversation. I have to believe that we can honor the sacrifice of police officers while also demanding that police brutality be addressed. Because it’s clear that the criminal justice system in this country is broken. According to Campaign Zero, police in the United States killed 1,100 people in 2014. Black people are killed by police at a rate disproportionate to both their criminal activity and percentage of the population. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Gardner…the list of names grows almost daily now, and it seems like news stories of African Americans shot and killed at the hands of police are on perpetual loop.

I watched Tomi Lahren’s Final Thoughts on Jesse Williams’s BET speech and the Alton Sterling killing. She tells Williams and the Black Lives Matter movement to stop feeling sorry for themselves. That’s pretty easy to say from a position of privilege. After all, Lahren isn’t a member of a community still suffering from the painful legacy of slavery and a long history of discrimination and violence perpetrated against it. She brands them “cop haters,” and I have no doubt the tragedy in Dallas will give her more fuel. She doesn’t understand that being pro-cop and pro-Black Lives Matter aren’t mutually exclusive. Rather, we recognize that police officers, due to the nature of their work, wield a great degree of power, so we should hold them accountable when that power is abused.

The double standard is evident to anyone who cares to look. This kind of thing simply doesn’t happen to White people. Jesse Williams was right. Police do “manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day.” In January, armed White men seized government property at the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. It was 24 days before anyone was arrested (one militant was killed during the confrontation). Take a look at how we treat White criminals as well. Stanford swimmer and RAPIST Brock Turner got only 6 months for sexual assault. White teen Ethan Couch killed four people in a drunk driving accident and got probation (which he later violated) to rehabilitate him for his “affluenza.”

When African Americans are killed by White police officers, some are quick to point out if they were guilty of prior offenses. Frankly, that’s irrelevant. When did we become a society that blames the victims? Women are blamed for their own rapes because they drank alcohol. The murders of transgender people are brushed aside because they are “provocative” targets. Black teenagers who are pulled over should just “get out of the car.” The other argument I keep hearing is “All Lives Matter.” Well, of course they do. But no one has to be told that White lives matter. The Black Lives Matter movement exists because the criminal justice system has made it clear that their lives are less valuable than White lives.

I stand with the fallen police officers and good cops across the country, but I also stand with Alton Sterling and Philando Castille’s family and friends and with Black Lives Matter. Because I am not a member of the Black community, I can never truly understand the depth of their sorrow nor the anger and fear they must feel. Those of us who live under the umbrella of relative security that is Whiteness must speak up and ensure that while we mourn the loss of the Dallas officers, we don’t allow what happened to Sterling and Castile to be swept under the rug. To quote the late Elie Wiesel, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Dallas’ deadly shootings: What others are saying

A Dallas police officer covers his face as he stands with others outside the emergency room at Baylor University Medical Center, Friday, July 8, 2016, in Dallas. Snipers opened fire on police officers in the heart of Dallas on Thursday night, killing some of the officers. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
A Dallas police officer covers his face as he stands with others outside the emergency room at Baylor University Medical Center, Friday, July 8, 2016, in Dallas. Snipers opened fire on police officers in the heart of Dallas on Thursday night, killing some of the officers. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

be a peaceful gathering to protest the recent deadliest incident for law enforcement in the U.S. since 9/11. Two civilians also were injured.

The attack on police in Dallas has left many speechless and fearful. Others, however, are putting voice to our worries and fears. Here is a sampling:

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“There are problems that our society has no idea how to fix — and the issues of race and policing are fall in that category. Body cameras help; better training helps; community policing helps; but these are not complete solutions.
Ridding ourselves of these senseless shootings requires a degree of honesty about cultural bias, white privilege and perceptions about black and brown people that I’m not confident our society can muster. And as long as the immediate — and human — instinct is to draw a weapon in the face of fear, it is inevitable that an officer will eventually shoot to kill without cause.” — Tara Doolittle, Viewpoints editor

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“(Dallas) Mayor Mike Rawlings’ assessment was tragically correct: ‘Our worst nightmare happened.’
Now we must wake up and unite. If we lead with anger, nobody wins.” — Dallas Morning News Editorial Board

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“As Thursday night melted into Friday morning, Facebook began to send messages: So-and-so is wondering if you’re OK during The Violent Crime in Dallas, Texas.
No, I’m not OK.”  — Robert Wilonsky, Dallas Morning News city columnist

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“Because it’s what the heart demands when it aches, we tend to search for brightness among unimaginable darkness. Sometimes the darkness is so dark the search is unimaginably difficult.” — Ken Herman, American-Statesman columnist

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“Yes, the good guys need our support. And I, for one, still believe in good guys.
They are the ones who ran toward the gunfire, who scrambled to get innocents out of the way, who stood in salute of fallen brethren outside the Parkland Hospital ER.
They are the only thing standing between us and the cowards who attack from comfortable perches on a peaceful Dallas street.” — Lisa Falkenberg, Houston Chronicle columnist

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“Dallas knows what comes next.
People will talk about guns, and hatred, and race, and Texas.
Everyone will have a hero, and a villain, and a solution, and a way to blame some political opponent.
And none of that will mean anything at all.
Because what happened Thursday night in Dallas will leave us with no easy solutions — just nightmares to haunt us for years after a bloodthirsty ambush attack on police officers of all colors who were guarding peaceful protesters of all colors.” — Bud Kennedy, Ft. Worth Star Telegram columnist

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“This horrendous attack on the police and the two killings this week demand sober reflection by the nation’s political and law enforcement leadership….with killings happening in cities, suburbs and rural communities, there needs to be leadership in every police department in the country that insists on cultural and attitudinal change. Credible civilian oversight of the police has to be a factor if community trust is ever to be restored. The latest ghastly images show how much has not been done, two years after Ferguson.” — New York Times Editorial Board

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“Brown commands more than 3,500 sworn officers, who patrol Dallas’ 1.3 million residents spread over 385 square miles. He knows, day after day, that his department is one gunshot, one overreaction, one dubious decision from becoming the next national story.
And even when they don’t, when they do their very dangerous jobs with skill and professionalism, when they run toward the gunfire to keep the rest of us safe, it might not matter. It didn’t Thursday night. And that’s the world we now live in.” — Mike Hashimoto, Dallas Morning News editorial writer