When word of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile's murder reached me, I was tending to my mother at the UCLA Medical Center. Then the horrific events of Dallas unfolded. I hadn't seen any video, or, for that matter, a full accounting of what happened, but knew enough given our recent history, that I mumbled the words, "here we go again" to no one in particular.
My anger forced its way to the surface, hands trembling uncontrollably. I was mad at everyone: the police, the sniper, and the system. The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, poverty, income inequality, poor education in minority communities, substandard housing, new voting restrictions, gerrymandered districts, Citizens United, et al, has festered so long, its handcuffed attempts to find lasting solutions to systemic racism and by extension confrontations with police.
While things have improved considerably for all of America's minority communities, those gains are measured relative to the rest of society at a given point in history, and by that measure, the black and brown community has yet to realize the full width and breadth of America's largess.
Far too many who have privilege dump the nation's inequality woes on police. Police are ill-equipped or trained to handle the task, and more importantly, it's not their job. As long as the privileged aren't confronted with crime, poverty, economic deprivation or racism, it's far too easy to wash their hands of a responsibility all Americans should share, a more just society. It leaves the privileged with little to no empathy for America's minority communities, and as such are actually part of the problem.
I finally located a television and caught up on three days of depressing news. I'd started the transition to the last stage of the grieving process, acceptance, but couldn't quite jump that hurdle, not yet, it was too soon. The country I so proudly donned the uniform for has been under assault from within for decades. While I've been out of military uniform for thirty years, I've never taken off the uniform of American citizen. A growing voice inside me urged me to serve again. As a father of a grown son, I felt ashamed I hadn't lent my skills and talents sooner, however rudimentary those skills might be. I just don't know where to begin.
I watched the marches in Baton Rouge, Dallas, St Paul, New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and even London. I'd seen this act one too many times; in the name of---Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter L. Scott, and so many others, I've lost count.
A few days later it was the memorial service and the eloquent words of President Barack Obama. Then came that sham of a town hall meeting that left me emotionally drained, and quiet frankly pissed off. The only one in authority who appeared to get it besides President Obama (his words were understandably measured) was Milwaukee police chief Edward Flynn. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, tried a little political grandstanding in support of police, but was tactfully smacked down by the president. But the entire event felt like a choreographed charity boxing match---the heavy weight champion establishment toying with the amateur contestant for the amusement of the crowd. Maybe this was the wrong forum for solutions, or I simply expected too much. In my opinion, this format has limited utility.
Marching, in my opinion also has limited utility in 2016, even when combined with the presence of social media. Marches worked wonders during the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam era. Television was evolving; the novelty of live news coverage, limited stations and no Internet meant you couldn't ignore the news of the day, even if you wanted to. Today, marching brings exposure to a problem and allows communities to burn off steam, but its lasting effects seem restricted to a finite period of time following the immediate aftermath of yet another senseless death. No, something more is needed.
Is there a political solution? I doubt it. The political discourse this election cycle, like so many before, is simply too toxic. The Southern Strategy of electoral politics is alive and well in 2016. Sadly, those who fall victim to this strategy have more in common with the people they are manipulated into separating from, but can't seem to get past skin color.
There's a block of leaders, media types, pundits and other highly successful Americans who believe, wrongly, I might add, that we are in a post-racial society, whatever that term means. They simply can't fathom the thought of police misconduct towards black and brown citizens in the era of Obama. You repeat post-racial often enough, those already predisposed to deny injustice and inequalities become even more entrenched in their patterns of denial. This is the very group of people holding back progress.
Then there are the all too ubiquitous government task forces that are long on promises and short on delivery. I hate to sound like a cynic, preferring to look at the glass half full, but with each passing day, it's hard not to lose faith.
So, I need your help, because I don't know where to lend my voice and talents, the problems are so many. How do we create a more just society that deals openly and honestly with the systemic issues that plague this country? How do we weed out the bad apples in our police departments and build trust that leads to effective policing? How can we get desperate politicians to refrain divisive rhetoric? How do we get the fortunate to have empathy for the plight of the less fortunate? Lastly, and by far the most difficult, how do we change our social conditioning? Is it possible to embrace one another without looking at race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, or at least accept our differences and not be fearful?
I have more questions than answers, so I'm turning to the public for possible solutions. It's 2106 and I'm sick and tired of the status quo. Any solution has to involve more than police reform. It feels like the entire system; political, economic, justice, education, all of it has been allowed to rot and few wanted it fixed with any sense of urgency.
In a week or two, I will collect all the comments and write a series of follow-up posts in the hopes someone who can make a difference acts on the more relevant suggestions. Maybe it will be me.
You can leave your comments here, or on my blog www.michaelgordonbennett.com where this story will be repeated.