So here we are again. Pent-up anger has been unleashed. One stupid and callous act, caught on camera, rips off the bandages from unhealed wounds left over from other confrontations between overzealous law enforcement officers and black men. Once again, a man is dead and repercussions for the perpetrator are slow to come.
Yes, it’s not fair for us to perceive such awful incidents as typical of police officer attitudes.
Most police officers are able to keep emotions in check. And many are able to reach beyond the adrenaline rush of enforcement to the thoughtful, but challenging role of brokering a peaceful resolution out of conflict.
And it’s not fair to condemn all demonstrators with harsh reprimands for blocking and for burning, to say nothing of ignoring social distancing precautions.
Most demonstrators are out in force to make a public statement, to get our collective attention to focus on repeated injustices. Too often, we do not listen to the chants and calls until a fringe of those demonstrators, willing to do anything, interrupts our lives with chaos or destruction.
It is sad that the wanton acts of a few grab the headlines, while the urgent message of the masses gets pushed back into news analysis pieces that receive less attention.
Some would blame “the media” for fueling fire by focusing on the extremities of an action. And yes, some forms of media thrive on sensational headlines or breathless reportage laden with exclamation points. But there are also reporters and media outlets who look for facts and back-stories and who try to discover, understand and explain the events that led to a conflagration.
There is also a “wild west” social media, much of it running rogue without the tempering of newsroom discussions and careful checking of facts.
It is not easy or fair to be an African American male in a country where every action is subject to scrutiny and any infraction may lead to a deadly encounter. This does not justify the infraction. It simply recognizes that an African-American male is more likely to die from an encounter with a law enforcement officer than is a white male in similar circumstance.
Recently in our own Des Peres, an African American man returning to a store to pick up a paid-for television was accused of stealing and pinned to the ground when he tried to explain and then pushed back in protest when he was not believed.
We Caucasians bristle at any charges of racism. We often push back against the idea that we may benefit from so-called “white privilege.” We resist the idea that distant echoes of slavery may still rear ugly heads within our culture and our institutions.
We have much to learn. The lessons are urgent despite the glacial pace at which our perceptions move forward.
We are here. The time is now.