Today, an interfaith service will be held for the 5 Dallas law enforcement officers who were tragically killed last week. Sadly, there is also news this morning about what may be the first "copy-cat" ambush of police subsequent to the Dallas incident - 5 men were arrested in Washington D.C. this morning after shooting at law enforcement who were responding to a report of shots fired. These incidents, combined with the citizens who are peacefully protesting nation-wide about extra-judicial killings, represent an extremely disturbing state of affairs. I truly do not feel it's an exaggeration to say that our police and our citizens are at war with each other.
What's equally tragic is that this scenario is being reported on and discussed by so many people using the same dichotomous lens of false alternatives that America applies to so many issues we face today. It's A or B. You either blindly support everything the cops do, or if not then you clearly hate cops. You either understand the plight of the African American community in this, or you're a racist. We must reject this framework, and anyone who adopts it.
Some people are already doing that, and we must celebrate them. I've seen David Brown, the Dallas police chief, articulate the complexities of this issue extremely well (here's just one example). He knows first hand - his son died after initiating a shoot out with police. I saw Congressman Elijah Cummings spell out the importance of dialog, compassion, and understanding very well in an interview with CBS. Congressman Cummings lives in downtown Baltimore, which has seen its own share of unrest related to this issue. Senator Marco Rubio has made some very articulate points about the valid concerns on both sides of this issue. We have to reject the urge view this as one side being right and the other side being wrong. Both sides are right in some respects and wrong in others, and there is a continuum of perspectives between the two sides that must also be part of the dialog.
This issue is far more complicated than just police procedures, cop demographics, how to engage with citizens, how to de-escalate, but, in 2015, police killed 1146 people in the US. 50% of those had a gun. 20% were unarmed. 50 of those deaths occurred when the person was already in custody. 45 of the deaths were by Taser, 31 of them were run over by a cop car (1019 were killed when shot by police). These numbers are tracked by individuals and news organizations because, nationally "killed as a result of interaction with police" isn't something that police departments or the FBI tracks in any kind of consistent, reliable way. Some police departments do self-report statistics, others don't. There's a damn wiki-style site where you can submit a news article about a "killed by police" incident in your town and, once it's verified, it gets added to a public database. We're a country that tracks the number of people who died in car crashes, with and without their seat belts on, but we don't track the number of citizens whose lives were taken, rightly or wrongly, as a result of interaction with the cops.
This is also about education, poverty, race, the war on drugs, the demands we place on our police officers, the gun culture, the "f- the police" culture, human biases, and I'm sure a dozen other things that I don't even know about.
Progress on this issue will only come from dialog. If you're a police officer, or know one, now is the time to reach to someone who feels threatened by police, who feels he/she can't trust the police, and try to understand why. If you don't trust the police, or you think they're all racist and out to kill black people, you need to talk to a cop, because they're not. We have to stop painting all police officers and all African Americans as if they're uniform groups, because neither one is, at all. And we have to keep talking.