We’re living in a black and blue America, bruised by racial tensions erupting on both sides of the divide. Xavier Johnson was a racist, taking aim in Dallas to kill as many white policemen as possible. The copycat murders of officers in Baton Rouge and other cities have just escalated the crisis.
Some police may have harbored racist beliefs that helped fuel unjustified use of force with innocent black civilians. Racism remains, but harping on the past and the few officers who live out their bias cannot be the answer. Most Americans detest racism of any color from police and citizens alike.
First, police have an obligation to treat everyone with respect and to act within the confines of the laws and limits they’re required to follow. Needless to say, every unjustified police shooting of an unarmed civilian is an unacceptable crime. Of course, there are bad cops and bad Americans of every race. All need to be held accountable for their crimes. No one deserves to be murdered. Every innocent killed is a tragedy no matter what the race or the profession.
It’s also evident that black lives have mattered in the rich tapestry of American history. From historical figures like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, and Martin Luther King, Jr. to today’s Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Dr. Ben Carson, Dallas Police Chief David Brown, and President Barack Obama, all have made an enduring impact on our country.
But it’s the black Americans who have personally touched and enriched my life who I will never forget. To name a few, they include my fellow speaker friends the late John Alston and Lenora Billings Harris, my fellow congregation members Friday O. and his family, my GOP buddies Charles and Martha House, and my Uplift VC friend and protégé Margraretha Wells.
Of course, I noticed the color of their skin when I first met them. Whenever we meet now, I just see a smile from a friend. I’m sure I’m not alone in this experience. It’s too tempting for some to say, “Well, they’re not like the rest of those (whites or blacks). They’re more like us.” We work with them. We worship and pray with them. We have dinner and laugh with them.
There can be no resolution without each of us discharging our own responsibilities as citizens to be part of the answer. We need the personal connection that comes from blacks, blues and whites getting to know one another…marching together instead of against each other. We also need to support and thank the thousands of responsible officers who do their best to protect us.
In Dallas, as people marched against police racism and their use of deadly force, it was the police who watched and protected their right to protest. It was peaceful; there were conversations and moments of personal connection. When shots rang out, demonstrators ran for cover protected by the very people they marched against. Police ran to neutralize the shooter. Some of those officers gave their lives that day. Others helped protect and save wounded demonstrators.
More are trying to build critical bridges. After a local Black Lives Matter activist told the Wichita, Kansas chief of police that he was planning a protest, Chief Gordon Ramsay proposed a counter offer—a First Step Cookout! In an attempt to bridge the divide, many from both the police and Black Lives Matter came together for a social event few will forget. Chief Ramsay suggested that more communities do the same. He told KMUW-TV, “It takes two parties to make a healthy relationship.”
We have spent decades dividing America into groups. We can continue to throw data and videos back and forth in support of either “side,” but we might remember the words of Abraham Lincoln who led this great county at a time of our worst divide. After overhearing three politicians talking about a political opponent they detested, Lincoln interrupted and said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
The strength of our country lies not only in our liberty, but in our unity and shared responsibility. The vision of what we can be is on our coins and currency—E Pluribus Unum. It translates into a call for us to reach out across our treasured diversity—“Out of Many One.” Are you ready for a few more “First Step Cookouts?”