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.”

When will black lives matter?

Police Shooting Louisiana
In this July 5, 2016, photo made from video, Alton Sterling is detained by two Baton Rouge police officers outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, La. Moments later, one of the officers shot and killed Sterling. (Arthur Reed via AP)

I promised myself that I would not watch the video of Alton Sterling’s death at the hands of a Baton Rouge police officer. Even in the still photos of Sterling in life, I see the face of every black man I know  — my 39-year-old brother, my male cousins, my college classmates, my friends.

Instead, I watched the video of Sterling’s widow speak at a press conference while her 15-year-old son sobbed next to her. I saw not just a boy reeling from the loss of his father, but the realization of a boy on the cusp of becoming a man that he too faces the same peril. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong cop.

WATCH: Who was Alton Sterling?

Then to be greeted this morning by news of a second police shooting death, even more egregious than the first. A black man stopped for a broken taillight in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn., shot with a 4-year-old in the back seat and his girlfriend sitting next to him. By witness accounts Philando Castile had a license to carry a handgun — a fact that he disclosed to the officer as he had been trained to do. His girlfriend streamed the aftermath on Facebook Live, which has received more than 2 million views by Thursday morning.

Just as Roxanne Gay in today’s New York Times writes,  I am also “so very tired.” I am distraught that two years of videos and outcry seems to have made little difference in the outcomes of these cases. It is one thing to talk quietly among family about how to be cautious in your dealings with police because you know the threat is real; it is entirely another to be bludgeoned month after month on social media by graphic images of case after tragic case with seemingly no end in sight.

Gay wrote:

We know what happens now because this brand of tragedy has become routine. The video of Mr. Sterling’s death allows us to bear witness, but it will not necessarily bring justice. There will be protest as his family and community try to find something productive to do with sorrow and rage. Mr. Sterling’s past will be laid bare, every misdeed brought to light and used as justification for police officers choosing to act as judge, jury and executioner — due process in a parking lot.

While gun rights activists and the National Rifle Association sanctimoniously argue about preservation of their Second Amendment Rights and their recent victories in Texas over campus carry and open carry, I know that I will never carry a firearm any further than  a gun range. I also know that I will tell my daughters to never ride in a car with a firearm, whether the owner is licensed or not. Why? Because the “hero” image in the fight for open carry and gun rights in Texas is a white man in boots, not a black man in a hoodie.

READ MORE FROM VIEWPOINTS: Sandra Bland’s death is sad reminder of double standard

There are problems that our society has no idea how to fix — and the issues of race and policing are 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.

I watched both shooting videos this morning so that I could write this column. With each viewing I feel a small sliver of hope and optimism about the future for my daughters and my nephews being sliced away. But this is my job, so I can only hope that one day there are no more videos to watch, not because no one is brave enough to film, but because there is no longer anything to see.

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