“We are now so interdependent that it is in our own interest to take the whole of humanity into account.” Dalai Lama
This week was enough to make all of us cry. First in Baton Rouge, a man selling CDs on a sidewalk named Alton Sterling was thrown to the ground and shot point blank by a policeman. His crime? Carrying a gun while Black. It is all on YouTube thanks to a cell phone video. Then in my brothers’ home state of MN, another Black man was killed by a cop, and another cell phone video went live, so people on Facebook could watch Philandro Castile take his last breath while his girlfriend tells the officer, “You shot four bullets into him sir!” His crime was a broken tail light, and the audacity to tell the police he was licensed to carry a gun, while reaching for his wallet.
When a Black sniper in Dallas, an Army veteran, decided to take vengeance into his own hands, we all thought this is it. Something has got to give, we cannot sustain our country by buying guns and living behind gates, by living in fear of the “Other.” And for a split second it did seem as if the Red and Blue was weaving itself back together again. But it didn’t last.
When I met a woman from Dallas at a memorial service on Friday, we touched on the troubles. I was truly grieving, so much senseless loss. And she said, “What about Black on Black crime?” and her daughter took her elbow, cautioning her to be careful what she said….I wasn’t sure where she was going. But from the younger woman’s reaction I knew it would be bad.
When White people talk about “Black on Black crime,” it’s like saying all Mexicans are rapists. It’s code for an underlying bigotry; don’t trust them, they’re gangsta. When I taught Head Start in the projects of Jersey City, I remember people calling it a ghetto. The word ghetto actually comes from the pogroms in Russia – it is Yiddish and means: an organized persecution or extermination of an ethnic group, esp of Jews.
When White people say, “Castile was doing everything right,” what that means is he was licensed to carry a gun, he had a good job, he wasn’t selling cigarettes or CDs on the street. He bought the American Dream, he didn’t have to hustle, he worked at a Montessori school for f-sake. And he had a fiancee and a baby girl in the back seat. He lived in a fairly progressive part of the country, but that couldn’t save him from a terrified cop with a gun. And the underlying message?
Since Castile was doing right, all those other unarmed Black men must have been doing something wrong!
When the President compared the Black Dallas shooter to the Neo-Nazi White shooter in Charleston he was making a valid point. There is not much we can do to predict which mentally ill young man will wake up one day and decide to take out a number of people based on race or ridiculous ideology. Why is the gunman of one crime a lone wolf, while another morphs into a terrorist?
Today, social media is turning the tide around these issues. We can no longer ignore a militarized police force. We must witness the mass murder of police in the middle of a non-violent protest march. We are teaching our children to shelter in closets in our schools, because the right to bear arms is so precious to us.
We will always have a few bad cops. And we will always have the mentally ill. The flint to this combustible mixture is the gun, and God help us, if our legislators cannot regulate guns in this country, we may run out of hope. Because racism can be cured; racism needs to be taught, and we as a people can decide to stop teaching hate to our children.
The whole world is watching.