It's Time For Action, To Help Heal America's Racial Divide

Americans have faced the deepest of tragedies since Independence Day this year. First, the death of two black men after encounters with police. Then the shooting of five police officers in Dallas by a sniper who reportedly wanted to kill white cops as payback.
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Americans have faced the deepest of tragedies since Independence Day this year. First, the death of two black men after encounters with police. Then the shooting of five police officers in Dallas by a sniper who reportedly wanted to kill white cops as payback.

It has been four years since the death of Trayvon Martin, yet it feels that nothing has changed. Innocent black Americans have continued to die after run-ins with law enforcement officers. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the two black men killed after altercations with police, will be mourned in the black community just as Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and Tamir Rice were. We also mourn the deaths of Patrick Zamarripa, Brent Thompson, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens, the Dallas officers slain by a senseless act of violence by a disturbed gunman seeking what he thought to be justice. He was most sadly mistaken, because this was not justice but madness.

Our melting pot has reached its boiling point. Black citizens (myself included) fear for our lives when we encounter the police. We teach our young to comply with officers, despite the violence that at times is still committed against us even when we do. The truth of the matter is that every day, both black families and blue families fear that their loved ones will not come back when they walk out their doors. This feeling has only intensified with the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as the killings of officers in Dallas and New York City.

The relationship between law enforcement and black communities has all too often been a negative one since the first police forces were formed in this country. The duties of the colonial police departments included keeping slaves in line and bringing them back to their owners, should they try to escape.

During the Civil Rights Era, police were charged with enforcing the unjust laws of segregation. At the time, some southern police officers changed into the robes of the KKK at night to carry out countless heinous acts against the black population. It's important to reflect on history and this relationship, because it has implications to this day.

We know that the vast majority of police officers have everyone's best interests at heart and are dedicated to serve and protect us. Nonetheless, it is difficult for many of us in the black community to have complete trust in law enforcement. We question whether the families of Sterling and Castile will receive any legal justice. In case after case, officers have walked free. The relationship between black citizens and law enforcement is emblematic of the larger issue of race relations in America. We have not yet laid to rest the systemic and institutionalized racism that has its roots in colonial times.

The ever increasing deterioration of race relations needs to be halted and repaired. We must stop going to our respective corners when the bell rings and then come out slugging. We are at a watershed moment. We must bring communities of all color together. It is now imperative for our leaders to show unity. We must talk. But we also must take action, no matter how difficult that may be, or how awkward our first steps are. In order to initiate the dialogue, President Obama must convene a summit at Camp David in which policymakers, civil rights organizations and law enforcement agencies engage in an open and honest dialogue, with a goal of developing concrete solutions to solve this national security issue. By bringing these leaders together, we will show the American public that our country is not afraid to take the steps necessary to address the cycle of violence. The conversation cannot stop there, though. Leaders in every community should organize and create an open atmosphere where race relations and law enforcement issues can be discussed

Concrete action must come out of these discussions, both at Camp David and in each and every community.

Here are some initial action steps I believe we should take:

Institute training about unconscious bias for every single police officer in every department, big and small, urban and rural, regardless of the race of the officer or the racial makeup of the community.

Set up standing police oversight boards in each community that includes members of the general public - of all races and ethnicities, both male and female, and across a wide age range - as well as elected officials and police personnel. These boards should replace the police oversight boards that are comprised primarily of police personnel.

Equip all police with body cameras and require the cameras to be on when the officer is on duty.

Establish anonymous hotlines to report any activities that seem improper, whether it is in the neighborhood or within the police department. Establish guidelines so that whistleblowers, whether they be cops or citizens, are not penalized for reporting improprieties. These hotlines will help eradicate the blue line of silence, which encourages police to stand silent when they see wrongdoing by their fellow officers.

These are just a few steps we must take if we are to move forward and create a society that respects and protects all of us - black, white, brown or blue.

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