It was interesting, if not surprising, to watch the twitter feed of ignorance following yesterday’s post about Deray Mckesson’s arrest in Baton Rouge. There were the puny defensive retorts of people who hated Deray and sought any nit, no matter how wrong, to impugn him or justify his arrest. There were the emotional retorts that were devoid of meaning, but seemed important enough for someone to publish.
In the aftermath, there are the fingerpointers and rationalizers making the usual excuses. Then there are voices trying to accomplish the same goals, but wrapped in packages that make the unwary believe they are seeking unity when they remain stuck in their tribalism. They use softer, kinder words, but they still put their tribe in the right, and tacitly blame the other.
Charles Blow tells of a conversation with his daughter the morning after the Dallas killings.
Friday morning, after the Dallas shootings, my college student daughter entered my room before heading out to her summer job. She hugged me and said: “Dad, I’m scared. Are you scared?” We talked about what had happened in the preceding days, and I tried to allay her fears and soothe her anxiety.
How does a father answer such a question? I’m still not sure I got it precisely right.
Truth is, I am afraid. Not so much for my own safety, which is what my daughter was fretting about, but more for the country I love.
As it happens, I know Blow’s daughter. who is an exceptionally accomplished foil fencer. Our kids crossed paths. But this appeal of father to daughter, touching though it may be, ignores that the cops assassinated in Dallas have fathers, spouses, children too. Just because their father doesn’t have a column in the New York Times doesn’t mean they didn’t have a similar conversation, similar fears, similar anxieties. That Blow can tell his story doesn’t mean they don’t have a story to tell as well.
Centuries of American policy, culture and tribalism are simply being revealed as the frothy tide of hagiographic history recedes.
Our American “ghettos” were created by policy and design. These areas of concentrated poverty became fertile ground for crime and violence. Municipalities used heavy police forces to try to cap that violence. Too often, aggressive policing began to feel like oppressive policing.
And out come the same grievances.
This is a time when communities, institutions, movements and even nations are tested. Will the people of moral clarity, good character and righteous cause be able to drown out the chorus of voices that seek to use each dead body as a societal wedge?
People of “moral clarity” see things as Blow does. The other tribe seeks to use “each dead body as a societal wedge.” But not Blow. He’s just a father trying to protect his daughter, as is a father’s job.
In contrast, Eric Adams, former cop who now wears the politician’s hat as Brooklyn Borough President, strikes a similar, but opposite, pose.
Regardless of the skin we are in or the uniform we wear, we bleed the same, cry the same tears and wrestle with the same fears. The intentional elimination of law enforcement officers is an act that does more than devastate the policing family. What men and women in blue are feeling after Dallas is the trauma of the realization of their own vulnerability as they go back on the beat: Who might target them as they protect the same street corners and defend the same protests?
So my solution to the tension between the police and the people — which I recognize as my own inner tension — is to seek unity, not find division. Right now, people feel that the time for transformation in our society has long since arrived, and they are undoubtedly correct.
Everyone wants to “seek unity, not find division,” by explaining they their tribe is suffering at the hands of the other tribe. Feel our pain. Feel our fear. Understand our feelings.
It’s all good to call for de-escalation of hostilities between the warring tribes, certainly better than the New York Post’s effort to foster open warfare to sell a few papers. But the “discussion” is phony, a steaming pile of “I’m right, you’re wrong,” wrapped in dulcet tones. At least the ignorant haters are obvious.
So everyone agrees that this must end? At least there’s agreement in the op-ed pages of the New York Times, if not on the streets. So how do silk lies help? These may be tribes, but they aren’t equivalent tribes. While the body behind the shield is that of a human being, the shield is that of a government agent. They choose the job, and with it, choose the duties that go with the job. Those duties aren’t changed by their personal anxieties. The public does not have a concomitant duty to feel badly for the hard job of being a cop.
So Blow wins? Not so fast.
The moment any person comes to accept as justifiable an act of violence upon another — whether physical, spiritual or otherwise — that person has already lost the moral battle, even if he is currently winning the somatic one.
It’s one thing to look at a dead body, but another to seek the government’s power to fight your moral battle, to protect your “spiritual or otherwise” interests from “violence.” You call for more laws, more crimes, more government intervention, more hostile encounters, but you want the guys with shields to stop committing violence against you and do it for you instead? You demand the full panoply of rights you deem due you, while asking them to use their force to deprive others of theirs?
When we all can see clearly that the ultimate goal is harmony and not hate, rectification and not retribution, we have a chance to see our way forward. But we all need to start here and now, by doing this simple thing: Seeing every person as fully human, deserving every day to make it home to the people he loves.
Making it home alive is a good goal, one that should be within the capacity of the police to accomplish if they performed their functions better. As for a society that provides your tribe with “harmony and not hate,” that’s not the cops’ function, and you can’t achieve it at the end of a gun.
As soon as the latest wave of dead bodies fades from memory, you will be back, calling for more laws, more crimes, more police intervention, more deprivation of constitutional rights, all for the benefit of your tribe’s interests. And that’s why the cycle repeats itself, no matter how sweet your words of reconciliation today.