From the joy of Election Night 2008, we have fallen to this. In Baton Rouge, 15-year-old Cameron Sterling sobs for his dead father Alton, “I want my daddy.” In Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a police officer screams justifications at Philando Castile’s girlfriend while still pointing his gun into their car with a 4-year-old in the back seat, and other officers comfort their colleague as Castile’s life drains away. In Dallas, the pop-pop-pop of a high-powered rifle scatters the crowd as a sniper ambushes police on duty at a protest against police violence.
Our nation’s stubborn marriage of racial injustice and guns feels like an awful flashback as a militarized police force in Baton Rouge tramples the First Amendment at a protest over the murder of Alton Sterling. The next day, activist DeRay Mckesson is still wearing his “Stay Woke” t-shirt as he is released after being arrested while live-streaming the protest on Periscope. Chris LeDay, who circulated the video of Sterling’s murder, claims police retaliation when he is arrested.
The deranged killer in Dallas met his own quick justice at the hands of a bomb robot after he refused to surrender. By contrast, there is little expectation of justice for Sterling and Castile because their killers wore badges. Someone commented on a photo of Sterling and his family, “They kill our fathers then mock us for being fatherless.” Grim irony mixes with outrage.
Extrajudicial killings over minor offenses like broken taillights and bootleg CD sales will doubtless continue, because our nation resents being shown the evidence that black lives are deemed expendable. There is no crime wave driving this. The inevitable posthumous slanders against the latest victims of trigger-happy cops as having “gotten what they deserved” are checked only thanks to the ubiquity of cell phone cameras.
The New York Post ran a reckless, despicable cover on July 8 that screamed “Civil War” and implicitly blamed the Dallas sniper attack on the peaceful demonstrators, whom the Post termed “anti-police.” As President Obama stressed a few hours before the attack, protests against discriminatory policing are entirely consistent with praising good police officers who risk their lives protecting us.
Predictably, however, right-wing voices blamed Obama. The National Association of Police Organizations accused Obama of conducting a “war on cops.” Former congressman Joe Walsh posted an unhinged tweet, which was later deleted, saying, “3 Dallas Cops killed, 7 wounded. This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.” By “Real America” he means White America.
The murdered police officers had names: Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens. We rightfully mourn them and honor their service and sacrifice. But theirs are not the only wrongful deaths being mourned. Alton Sterling was a father of five. Philando Castile left behind a school full of broken-hearted children.
[Side note: kindly do not belittle the Gays Against Guns group that formed after the Orlando massacre, as if gun control is not an LGBT issue. Excuse me, but our movement is grounded in a demand for full enfranchisement as citizens, not for some object like a golden chalice. Our community crosses every demographic category. Having advocated equality, we can hardly dismiss intersectional issues as someone else’s problem. We may differ over the proper response to gun violence, but calling a widely shared one illegitimate for being liberal insults our intelligence.]
Police are supposed to protect all of us. The white supremacist mindset infecting so many police forces not only degrades and endangers our neighbors and colleagues and loved ones of color, it diminishes everyone in our rainbow society. Americans are not all straight, white, Christian men. There is no reason why one subset of the population should bully and control everyone else. If police do not target me for extra scrutiny in search of a pretext to arrest me, then neither should they target a black or Muslim neighbor based on legally irrelevant characteristics.
Our national motto, “E pluribus unum,” means “Out of many, we are one.” The disparate treatment of black people by police in communities across this country makes it shockingly clear how far we are from putting that motto into practice.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2016 by Richard J. Rosendall. Reprinted by permission of author.