TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Empathy And Respect Are Lost Virtues

I woke up today feeling sad and depressed. An aging, white guy nearing retirement, I probably don’t deserve to feel this way. After all, I’ve had the tremendous fortune of living in a free and powerful country.

We weren’t rich, but our family had enough money to live in a relatively safe neighborhood, I attended a good school and eventually finished college. I didn’t have to fight in a war or survive the Depression, like my father did. I married a wonderful woman, had two great kids, a nice career and somehow avoided cancer and heart disease. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel a little world-weary this morning.

Oh, it could be so much worse.

A good friend lost his brother a couple of years ago in a senseless shooting. One of my wife’s friends died suddenly of cancer just after 50.

I could be poor. Uneducated. Unloved.

Let’s begin with this cold, but accurate premise: Life isn’t fair.  And after watching the events of these last few days, unfold in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas, it’s no wonder that others in this nation are suffering a lot more than Tom Coyne. But we all have “stuff.”

I’m not here to take sides. There’s more than enough of that going around these days. And disagreement shouldn’t be a bad thing.

A Facebook friend recently posted that he was tired of all the political posturing he’s seen lately. “Everyone has an opinion on gun control, race relations and the police,” he lamented.  “Facebook should be for fun, dumb things.”

I get his point, but I have to disagree.  It’s not the opinions I dread. It’s our unwillingness to empathize or respect the ones we don’t agree with.

Take, for example, the brouhaha that has developed over a pregame press conference called Saturday night by the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx. Several of the team’s key players felt compelled to speak out after the deaths of two black men and five Dallas police officers in related violence. They wore black T-shirts with a message seeking change and greater police accountability following the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling at the hands of officers last week. The men’s names were listed on the back, along with the Dallas Police Department shield and the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.”  The Lynx’s Maya Moore also praised the Dallas Police Department’s efforts to institute better training for officers and their  “noticeable drop in the number of shootings by officers in the last few years.”

Four off-duty Minneapolis police officers who were assigned to provide security for the Lynx game that night chose to leave the job after the news conference. The city’s Police Federation President Bob Kroll praised the decision and went so far as to say, “If (the players) are going to keep their stance, all officers may refuse to work there.” Kroll also included a parting shot that has since taken a lot of criticism. When asked about a report that as many as seven or eight officers had walked off the job, Kroll said, “They only have four officers working the event because the Lynx have such a pathetic draw.”

As if on cue, the battle lines over this issue have already been drawn. Try reading the Comment section on this story in any major online publication and you’ll find a fairly even mix of support for both sides. Those supporting the players find it understandable and commendable for athletes to take a strong stand for social change. Those supporting the police see the officers’ actions as brave, too. After all, they are there to provide security for the same players who now appear to be questioning their “justice and accountability.”

Kroll’s use of the adjective “pathetic” certainly didn’t do his side any favors. Especially when you consider the Lynx have brought home the only recent national championship trophies to the Twin Cities, already on three occasions.

Maybe he was tired of seeing his officers take so much heat.  Maybe he was outraged that 21 local authorities were injured in a recent BLM protest on Interstate 94.  Maybe he was hurting from watching five Dallas policemen perish senselessly.

Those are all reasonable assumptions. But as an elected official, he certainly wasn’t showing any empathy toward the players, many of whom are black and could better relate to racial profiling. And he clearly lacked respect for a group of women who have brought great pride and accomplishment to their city and gender.

Conversely, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton could have exercised better restraint, too, when offering an opinion shortly after the Castile story broke. “Would this have happened if the driver or passenger had been white? I don’t think it would have,” Dayton said.

Dayton might well be right. He may also have wanted to take a strong stand politically, on the issue of racial profiling. And he may have felt the need to reassure the already gathering crowd of protesters on his front step that he planned to provide plenty of support.

But isn’t it incumbent upon the governor to make certain that the officer who shot Castile gets a chance to be heard, too? Jeronimo Yanez deserves a fair trial, not to mention, an opportunity to explain his motives for taking Castile’s life.

Ironically, days after Dayton’s remarks, we’ve learned that Yanez is Latino, not white. And Yanez’s lawyer, Thomas Kelly, has told The Associated Press that his client was reacting to seeing a gun, not Castile’s race, when he drew his own weapon. That’s for the courts to decide.

If Yanez is guilty, he deserves to be severely punished. But if we are to get justice for Castile, Sterling and other people of color  wrongfully profiled and in some cases, even killed, then we must absolutely offer the same empathy and respect due Jeronimo Yanez.

Call me naive. Call me wishy-washy. Heck, once I post something on any site today, it’s a good bet that somebody will get around to calling me much worse  than that. And somebody may praise me.

But the reason I’m down today has nothing to do with my thick or thin skin.  It’s more about a growing belief that we’re all doomed, if we can’t begin to reason why someone different from us might still deserve to be understood. And after awhile, doesn’t it seem pretty predictable which side of the fence most folks seem to take on a regular basis?

So, here are a few, pie-in-the-sky wishes for making us more happy and hopeful that solutions, not separations, lie on the horizon:

1. I dream of the day I can turn on a television news program and not immediately recognize which channel I’ve selected.

2. I long for a time when writers dispose of terms like “crazy conservatives” or “left-leaning libs” and acknowledge that we don’t all fit into a nice, little “us vs. them” mentality.

3. I wish the shirt that the Lynx chose was both black AND blue. And that they reach out to those officers with a future press conference TOGETHER.

4. I wish Bob Kroll would apologize to the Lynx and go watch one of their games. He’s missing some pretty good basketball.

5. I wish all of us would be more careful when choosing pronouns like “they” or “them.” Did “they” all have evil intentions at those peaceful protests? Did “they” all shoot first and ask questions later?

6. I hope for the emergence of a strong third political party, if for no reason other than to end the gridlock and force more dialogue.

7. I pray that we at least seek meaningful compromise on gun legislation and begin putting our children’s lives before our need to feel safer when armed, rather than not.

8. I yearn for the day I can post something meaningful on social media, apart from birthday greetings or family photos, without the fear that my thread will eventually degenerate into name-calling and hatred.

9. I look forward to a time when we aren’t all so quick to click “Like” on something demeaning or disrespectful about a political candidate, just because it’s not our candidate.

10. Lastly, I dream that all of us, regardless of our many differences, can someday come to the conclusion that we’re a whole lot better off embracing diversity rather than endorsing exclusion.

OK, I feel a little better now.

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