We Caused Those Deaths

There is a headline in the New York Times this morning reading, "Anguish Deepens for Police: 'We've Seen Nothing Like This," and indeed none of us have. But what is surprising is not that we are seeing the wanton murder of police officers, but rather that it has been so long in coming. (I know that any police officers reading this will find the sentiment just expressed offensive, so I will note that I not only do not condone what is happening, I unequivocally condemn it; an unprovoked attack on any police officer is an attack upon all of us, and upon the fabric of our society. But here's the thing - the weft and warp of our society are visibly separating.)

Those who say that the widely circulated videos of the murder of African American civilians by police - and there is no other word for the deaths we have seen in most of those videos, and the demonstrations by ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ are "responsible" for the murder of police officers. They are, however, "responsible" for those deaths in the same way that the reporting of the words of Donald Trump are "responsible" for some of us calling him a fascist: Those videos have pulled back a curtain long hiding the ugliest of truths, largely only known to those with dark skin; in many places, in many ways, the same police we were taught in elementary school are our friends, are part of an army of occupation, enforcers of a kind of social apartheid.

When I was a reporter at Newsday, on Long Island, I used to hear our National Editor, Les Payne, one of America's leading journalists, who is African American, tell stories of "driving while black." I won't say that I didn't believe him, for I had never known him to prevaricate about anything. But the descriptions of his encounters with my "friends" the police were so far from my own experience that I had trouble relating to them. Even when I saw the broadcast and rebroadcast of the, brutal, savage beating of Rodney King, I still wondered, "what did he do to deserve that." And then some genius decided to put video cameras in cell phones and the floodgates of truth were opened wide.

We've all seen the videos; we've all read the stories. If we have a shred of honesty within us we know that being a black male in America can, in and of itself, be a life-threatening condition. If we have a shred of honesty within us we know that, in countless predominantly white communities all across America, there are police officers who believe they have the right, perhaps they believe they have the duty, to treat African Americans, and especially young African American men, in ways that would horrify those same police officers if they saw their own family members being treated that way.

What is shocking about the murder of police officers by deranged African American men - with legally obtained, ubiquitously available, high power, military weaponry, is not that these murders are occurring, but that their coming has taken so many decades. What happened in Dallas, what happened in Baton Rouge, was not "caused" by any group exercising its constitutional rights to protest, to speak out about certain ugly realities in our society, nor has it been "caused" by the kudzu-like spread of video cameras across the land. It has been caused by truth revealed. It has been caused by the behavior of men and women whom those innocent, dead, police officers would call their "brothers."

We caused those deaths, by our inaction, by our acquiescence in the maintenance of a social structure, by our active or passive maintenance of a national fabric that not only allowed, but supported the behavior that has inevitably brought us to the ugly place in which we now find ourselves. We will be repeatedly told this week by those celebrating the ascendancy of America's first fascist candidate for President, that it is time to restore "Law and Order" in America. Indeed it is; for everyone; everywhere; in every way.