Not anytime soon, judging by the forces we see in play.
On the one hand there’s a reckless defiance of authority in the black community, borne out of a very long history of injustice and mistreatment.
On the other there are police departments that are confused, overreacting, seemingly unable to grasp the complexity of the challenge at hand and lacking guidance.
There has been a lack of responsible leadership on both sides.
From the African American community, there has been a lack of leadership speaking out for restraint. Calling out loudly for people to protest peacefully and not burn or damage property. Calling out loudly for African Americans to not dare an officer who’s holding up a gun with a threat to shoot if you don’t comply.
Why can’t African American leadership step out and say, ‘we know you are frustrated, fed up with the systemic racism, but please do not dare someone who’s pointing a gun at you. We want you to live so you, too, will benefit from the changes that we are working on. We do not need you to be a corpse, or a memorial or in a wheelchair. We want you to value your life because you matter to our communities and the nation.’
Then there’s the police.
The present trend is to put all fault on them. But the police are us. They are a cross section of the society at large. If they are who they are today, flawed and problematic, it is because they are us.
Police has needed, for the longest time, to learn about the importance of having a social perspective on the work they do. Today’s officer, cannot simply say ‘I am a cop. I’m not a social worker.’ You can’t do that because that is not what the present work demands.
Today’s police work, particularly when dealing with the African American community, requires a special sensitivity. It calls for every officer to be fully aware of the history of mistreatment of African Americans at all levels of the justice system, from legislators to judges, prosecutors and on down, and the cumulative detrimental effect that has had on them.
We’re talking about mistreatment and unfairness that runs deep and dates back centuries. Mistreatment that is still present today in our jails and prisons, mistreatment present in laws that restricted Blacks from homeownership, that made for longer sentences, as when shorter terms were given to offenders charged with possession of powder cocaine because they were more likely to be white, as opposed to those charged with possession of crack cocaine, who were more likely to be Black.
For years we have known that if you’re Black you’re more likely to be stopped by police or face added obstacles for promotion or entry to graduate programs.
The cumulative effect of all those acts of aggression has resulted in an attitude of defiance, which sometimes has turned reckless.
But the shooting has got to stop.
Police have to understand what has led to the reckless defiance we see today so they, themselves, are not reckless in turn.
Police, like most of us, need to be thoughtful in addressing Black folks.
The right to carry a gun does not relieve police of that responsibility.
African Americans are simply asking the rest of us to not overreact. To be mindful that they, themselves might overreact and to, please, be patient with them.
They are saying to us, ‘do not forget that African Americans have internalized the hatred with which we have been treated, as when we grade each other on account of the lightness of our skin, the lighter the better.’
African Americans are asking the rest of us to breathe before we act.
So they can breathe, too.
Even if they are in the wrong, they are asking us, ‘please do not be violent.’
They are saying to us, ‘Be considerate, be mindful that some of us may be inappropriate.
They are saying to us, ‘We’re willing to learn. But please be fair. Be open. Be kind.
If we are wrong, then we are wrong and need to be corrected.
If we are violent, please stop us. But be mindful of our past, of where some of that may come from. Do not simply shoot us.’
They are saying to us, ‘Just be thoughtful. We want to value our lives like you value yours. So be kind. The great majority of us want to obey the law, but also want to live in a world that is fair to us.’
They are saying to us, ‘We welcome those voices that preach restraint, because sometimes, the accumulated rage we’ve lived with, impairs our judgment.
Please do not forget that the great majority of us want fairness.
Fairness in economic opportunity, in educational possibilities, in access to health care, and we will do our best to continue to contribute to this nation.’
That plea for life, lives deep in the heart and mind of every African American.
Will we hear it?
It is there when they ask for room to breathe.
Will our policemen hear it – those who don’t already do?
My hope is that they will.
Like I hope the rest of us will, too.
Oscar Valdes is the author of Psychiatrist for A Nation and other books. Available on Amazon.