On Thursday, five police officers were killed by snipers during a protest rally in Dallas, Texas. The shootings were another horrifying addition to one of the toughest weeks in America in recent memory. Coming on the heels of the back-to-back killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the deaths of the five officers have been perceived by many as the spark of even more racial divide.
The New York Post front page for Friday features a photo of the slain cops with a headline that reads, in large, bold letters: CIVIL WAR. The words might as well be “RACE WAR.” It’s a dangerous implication, one that feeds into the idea that the state of race relations in America will only be rectified by violence, and nothing else. And that just isn’t true.
The incendiary, tasteless headline doesn’t exist in a vacuum, of course. It echoes the sentiments of real people, people who are taking to their social media accounts to condemn the Black Lives Matter movement for the deaths of these cops, to blame them for inciting violence and continuing the “war on police.”
But as Washington Post writer Radley Balko points out, there is no actual war on cops: “So far, 2015 is on pace to see 35 felonious killings of police officers. If that pace holds, this year would end with the second lowest number of murdered cops in decades.”
The word “war” used to describe what’s happening in America right now could have unpredictable and unsafe ramifications. Black people asking not to be shot for simply existing is not “war.” Black people assembling to protest their senseless killing is not “war.” There may be rage involved, fury, but to stand up for ones rights is not an act of violence ― it’s an act of revolution against an oppressive system.
“"WAR" on the cover of the New York Post, or in an angry Facebook post by someone condemning black people for the officers’ deaths, implies that in the end only one side can actually remain.”
“War” implies opposing sides. “War” implies separate aggressors coming to blows so that only one may reign supreme. And “war” on the cover of the New York Post, or in an angry Facebook post by someone condemning black people for the officers’ deaths, implies that in the end only one side can actually remain. That is terrifying. That is un-American. And to use that word is to potentially incite only more violence and misunderstanding.
What happened in Dallas is not OK. It is not acceptable. It is a true tragedy in its own right. It is representative of the deep wounds and the work that must be done to save the soul of this country. But it is not a declaration of “war.” It does not speak for Trayvon Martin, or Michael Brown, or Tamir Rice, or Sandra Bland, or Alton Sterling, or Philando Castile, or countless others. To insinuate that it does is to miss the point entirely.
To insinuate that black people are actually rooting for the deaths of police officers is downright vile. These attacks should not be used as justification to condemn black people for speaking out against police brutality. That does nothing to heal those wounds ― it merely deepens them.