I have complete confidence in the American people—that if I can have a conversation with them they’ll choose what’s right. At an emotional level, they want to do the right thing if they have the information.”
– President Barack Hussein Obama
Two weeks after America celebrated her 240th Independence Day, the clouds of smoke from the fireworks had cleared and the star-spangled celebration was dead and gone. We Americans had left the festive parks, stadiums, ballfields and backyard barbeques where we were united on a common ideal and returned to the societal forest—a forest haunted by misunderstanding and division, racism and hatred. Yes, we found ourselves back in that forest once again, lost and confused.
We thought that we, as a society of equals, had fully escaped the forest in 2008 when a multi-racial majority elected a black man as president. Yes, we did. We actually thought that.
But that was eight years ago. It was now 2016 and we had to face each other and admit that we took a wrong turn somewhere, even while the very capable, “Yes We Can” black man was in office.
Damn! After reaching such a marvelous mountaintop of racial unity and hope, were we really, truly back in the woods?
Yes. We were.
Truth be told, we re-entered the forest in 2014, six years into President Barack Obama’s residency in the White House, when the fates of a boy, a teenager and a grown man were thrust in our faces.
Tamir Rice, 12, Michael Brown, 18, and Eric Garner, 43, did not know each other in life, yet they shared a common tragic demise. Each was killed by a police officer—Garner in New York City, Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Rice in Cleveland, Ohio. Each was unarmed, except … perhaps … for the boy. He had a toy gun.
Many Americans believed that the officers would not have used fatal force against Garner, Brown or Rice, if the color of their bodies had not been black. For months—day in, day out, week in, week out—thousands protested peacefully, lying down in the streets en masse and closing down the normal flow of commerce and commuting in cities and towns across the country. Occasionally, protestors lashed out violently, setting fires, seizing property, throwing rocks and cursing cops.
Black and white activists alike led protestors chanting: No Justice, No Peace. No More Racist Police. This mantra was interwoven with other angst-filled slogans, including: Black Lives Matter … Hands Up, Don’t Shoot … I Can’t Breathe.
Police reaction ranged from passive and compassionate to overly aggressive and militaristic. At the end of one nighttime demonstration in Ferguson, police alleged that two officers were shot by an outlier protester. The officers survived and the protestor, who had allegedly escaped the scene, was apprehended within a few days, police said.
News organizations and social media covered the grassroots unrest incessantly at times, interviewing families of the victims as well as police officials, lawyers, social workers, activists, elected officials, cops and common folk. There was much talk about the “simmering distrust” between law enforcement and the black community, even after the authorities pronounced that their investigations disproved a major focal point of the unrest—that Michael Brown was not in “Hands-Up-Don’t-Shoot” mode when he was killed by Officer Darren Wilson.
After the non-stop news coverage began to fade like dissipating tear gas, many Americans still did not know what to think about the unrest, let alone what to do about it. We were left wondering, “Now what?”
… On April 12, 2015, eight days after Slager murdered Scott, Freddie Gray, a young black man, suffered a fatal injury under foggy circumstances in the back of a police paddy wagon in Baltimore, Maryland. With his wrists and ankles shackled, he suffered a spinal injury as he was being transported to jail. A week later, he died in a hospital.
Eight days after his death and hours after his body was laid to rest, rioters rocked Baltimore, violently clashing with police, looting stores and setting buildings and automobiles on fire. The National Guard was called in to help restore calm.
to hear each other, though they may strongly disagree.
We as a nation are now in a unique state of awareness, a heightened level of sensitivity and attention that is essential for change to occur. We hope there’s daylight ahead, but we cannot see it yet. We are seeking to find our way through the forest and into a clearing where the light can shine upon our situation.
Ferguson would birth a movement
and set the nation on a course
for a still-ongoing public hearing …
on race and policing.
– Wesley Lowery, They Can’t Kill Us All –
… These questions now belong to President Trump to answer. A wily and outlandish race-baiter, who speaks with forked tongue, Trump may not be able to transform himself from hater to healer. He may fail to make America better. But for the sake of our country, the rest of must not.