By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
I had planned a different column for this week…but that will have to wait.
The horrific events of last week in St. Paul, Minnesota, Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas have cast a pall over the American spirit and should cause us all to take a deep breath and think long and hard about race and bigotry in this country, past, present and future. In St. Paul and Baton Rouge, two more young black men lost their lives to trigger happy police officers, otherwise sworn to preserve and protect their citizens. This scene has tragically repeated itself in dozens of American cities over recent years. In Dallas, a young black man seemingly decided to vent his fury against white police officers by ambushing them during a protest gathering and killing five.
In the days that have followed, some politicians called for calm and reflection. Others dismissed or failed to understand the meaning of the “Black Lives Matters” rallies. One politician even declared that the murders in Dallas was war on white people and inferred violence against President Obama! Still others assigned blame to all police officers for the crimes of a few.
What I know is that this is no time to be stoking passions even further or trying to score political points with your base. What is needed is sober reflection and an acknowledgement that the racial problems still plaguing this nation are deep-seated and centuries old. And whether you are a police officer wearing a badge or an angry young man, white or black, also possessing a gun, in either case bigotry, hatred and a gun is a deadly combination.
This nation was founded with lofty words that “all men are created equal endowed by their creator with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That was never true for the African-American specifically, and people of color generally. That grandiose declaration also proved to be hollow for women, religious and cultural minorities who suffered discrimination for generations. But none more than black Americans. Many were brought to these shores in chains and lived out their years as slaves, eventually counted as 3/5 human and finally released from bondage by the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution on December 6, 1865. But that came after 250 years of slavery in the colonies and then the young nation. The legacy of that epoch could not be wiped out in one day, and the stain on this nation’s history and psyche was long lasting and haunts us still.
For their own reasons, many would not accept the black person as an equal. There were both legal and illegal efforts for over a century to keep the new black citizens as second class. And if some of the local discriminatory laws did not work, organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and White Knight’s Council used intimidation, violence and murder to oppress and suppress. Finally in the later part of the 20th century federal statutes were passed guaranteeing freedoms and civil rights first enunciated in our Declaration of Independence in 1776. But even with the passage of laws prejudice, hatred and fear cannot be legislated away.
Last week the bigotry and rage always just beneath the surface boiled over. Were the police officers who shot and killed two more black men during seemingly innocuous circumstances motivated by their racial profiling or perhaps their fear that those young men were about to do them harm?
Probably a lot of both. How much we may never know. The sniper who gunned down the police officers in Dallas thought he was at war with all white cops and vented his murderous rage without regard to anything other than his own warped sense of vengeance.
What is clear to me is that the violence on both sides is born of bigotry, ignorance and fear. Bigotry is the legacy of this nation’s racial history. The fear is that a person with a gun can kill in a blink of an eye. So better to shoot first and ask questions later. But this mentality is a self-fulfilling prophecy and will only perpetuate the cycle of violence for yet another generation. No person who harbors racial prejudice should wear a badge and carry a gun.
Every police department should have the legal responsibility to root out unsuitable and unstable officers before they are handed a gun. And demonstrators cannot rage against all police officers for the crimes of a few. That is ignorant and its own form of bigotry. And worse still it does not help solve our nation’s problem. Each American has a responsibility to view and respect their neighbors as they would wish to be respected, and to remember that ultimately we are ALL neighbors and members of the American family.
Finally to those politicians who try to take advantage of this national tragedy by either spreading more hate or more ignorant falsehoods about one group or another… shame on you. American patriots you are not.