Tony J Bender: That’s Life — Are We Talking Yet?

Hate devours everything around it and, eventually, the haters, too.

Twelve white officers down in Dallas. Five dead. Two more black men dead at the hands of the police.

Are we talking, yet?

Sure, we are. Past each other, seeing everything in black and white, when it’s much more complicated than that.

For a start, let’s stop patting ourselves on the back for “solving” racism. Oh, we signed civil rights bills — paid for it in bullets, fire hoses, lynchings, bombs and little girls dead in church.

But heck, the Supreme Court itself said we don’t need a voter’s rights act anymore, so everything must be fine and dandy for minorities in America. Why look, we even have a black president. Problem solved.

How many more videos do we need to see of black men in America being chased down and shot in the back by rogue cops? Gunned down for twitching at a traffic stop, shot at point-blank range, while flat on their backs? Or choked to death on a street corner for selling loose cigarettes, dead with a broken spine after a “rough ride” to jail?

The argument goes that blacks commit more crimes statistically, so it stands to reason they get stopped more often, ticketed more often, jailed more often. It’s a world unfamiliar to white America. How many tickets would you get if you were pulled over a couple of times every week?

In America, a black man is seven times more likely to die at the hands of the police than a white man is. Another undeniable fact is that blacks represent 13 percent of the population and 52 percent of the murders — 93 percent of them black-on-black. Similarly, 82 percent of white murders are committed by other whites.

Some evidence suggests it can be attributed to socioeconomic disadvantages. A study of violent crime in Cleveland found reducing poverty reduced the crime rate in the same way in predominantly black and white areas. That suggests poverty, not race, is the biggest factor.

Some police departments are working hard to break down divisions between police and the community. Dallas was one of them. Police Chief David Brown instituted lethal-force training every two months, instead of every two years, in an attempt to stem the use of excessive force. But some other police departments are poorly trained and racist. We have a minority problem, all right. A minority of bad cops are staining the reputations of the rest.

In Dallas, officers went out Thursday night to keep the peace. They weren’t wearing riot gear, nothing that might have provoked a peaceful protest. Yet they found themselves in a shooting gallery, targets of a black man who wanted to shoot white cops.

The situation was a whole lot more complicated than it needed to be. As many as 20 people were carrying firearms legally under Texas open-carry laws. Did they save the day? Nope, they ran. And they nearly got themselves killed. Because when the bullets are flying, any man holding a gun is a suspect. The Dallas Police Department showed incredible restraint under the circumstances.

One black man carrying a semiautomatic rifle during the gunfire wisely turned it in to the police. Because you know what a black man with a gun is? A statistic. A white man shopping for milk and eggs with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder? A Patriot.

Tell me again we’ve conquered racism. I want to believe. I want to see that mountain top.

One American adult in 35 is either in jail or otherwise under the jurisdiction of the judicial system in the Land of the Free. One out of every three black men will end up in prison.

Prisons are privatized. You know what private businesses need? Customers. So lobbyists are at the front of the line to make sure innocuous offenses are punished with jail time. Bad judges get kickbacks for locking ’em up and throwing away the key.

Who pays? We all pay.

We don’t have to agree about the root causes. The ills of society are complex. Anyone who can claim with certainty that he knows the exact cure is dumber than the rest of us, who admit we don’t know all the answers. But we can agree we have a big problem here.

We all stopped breathing Thursday night. It’s time to catch our breath. We need to remember the shooter in Dallas was no more representative of Black Lives Matter than rogue officers are representative of all lawmen.

The past week’s events have our attention, and that should give us hope. Historically, this country manages to do better— albeit at a maddeningly slow pace, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, “after (we’ve) exhausted all the alternatives.”

I’d like to believe that’s still true. Are we talking, yet?

© Tony Bender, 2016

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