Like many of you, I’ve been extremely tense following the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling (LA) and Philando Castile (Minn) at the hands of law enforcement. My entire family has been emotional and on edge – more so than following the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, etc. And while my despair and frustration was reaching a level that I was having trouble putting in perspective, I saw the news that 5 police officers were targeted and killed, in retaliation, while working during a peaceful protest in Dallas. So what was already difficult for me to put in perspective became virtually impossible.
It was around that time that I started reading Facebook messages that all seem to start with “To my black friends…” I texted my wife and told her I couldn’t read Facebook anymore for a while. So I unplugged for most of the weekend…spent some time with my baby boy, took my family to the amazing unity event at Byrd Park, watched the impromptu roundtable dialogue between Richmond law-enforcement and inclusion leaders hosted by CBS 6 news. I actually started to feel better – Richmond was picking me up.
A photo from the Richmond Community Unity Shootout at Byrd Park
For those who take pride in our community, who work hard to improve our community, who encourage and pray for unity and inclusion, I don’t pretend to have the all answers to improve race relations, institutional poverty, or even police brutality and abuse – these are complicated problems that we face and they require sophisticated solutions. That is why it is extremely frustrating (and disappointing) when I read Facebook rants or event media columns that attempt to suggest that there is a one size fit all solution to these problems.
I woke up this morning and read Mark Holmberg’s column in the Richmond Times Dispatch with the headline “Anti-police movements have missed the real target”. Which is much better than the headline floating on Facebook, “I’ve seen 100 murder victims, and Black Lives Matter isn’t helping”. The second headline really does a disservice to the entire column – it blinds reasonable people from reading the column and elicits a visceral reaction that doesn’t do justice to Mark’s perspective, as flawed as it may be.
I’m not your local Black Lives Matter (BLM) spokesperson but it must be said – apparently again and again – that Black Lives Matter is not an anti-police movement – it is an anti-police brutality movement – it is an anti-police abuse movement – that started in reaction to atrocities that took place without proper justice. The generalization that BLM is anti-police is problematic and inaccurate and I say that understanding that some BLM members, even leaders, have made comments that are interpreted as “anti-police.” Taking individual comments (made on twitter) and painting BLM in whole with those comments are irresponsible. There are plenty of police officers, news columnists, athletes, religious leaders, etc. who have made inflammatory comments on social media but when those individuals are identified those police forces, newspapers, sports teams, are not painted with broad strokes, it should be done here.
But that in itself part of the problem, as a black male or minority in America, we have been generalized for so long that we indeed have to take on the burdens of our entire race. It goes back to hoping every criminal on the nightly news is not black because we all catch hell. I won’t speak for BLM, I encourage you to read their recently released policy solutions. It provides their 10 policy solutions to improve the current climate of policing and criminal justice.
It’s disappointing that Holmberg’s column would suggest that BLM is anti-police. But even with that – there are even more disturbing points in the column…one being that we should throw out the Washington Post racial statistics on police shootings because police interact – the most – with those who break the law and those who break the law tend to live in poverty and those in poverty tend to be black SO you see “this is NOT a reflection on race, but a reflection on these same generation-old pockets of poverty that haunt this land,” as stated by Holmberg in his column.
He also states, “…no jurisdiction wants unsolved violent crimes, or reports of false arrests” and “We should hold them (police) accountable – with the facts – on a case-by-case basis. But that’s not what we’ve done since Mike Brown.”
I understand that Mark is a columnist and the RTD shouldn’t censor Mark in any way. And it is true that dialogue is what our community needs but it’s tough as a black man in Richmond to accept these comments without yelling at my computer screen. Again, because this issue is layered it’s irresponsible to throw blanket statements on the wall to see what sticks.
Mark goes on to write, “Not only have we missed an opportunity to have a national dialogue and reform about the racist hell we’ve built in cities all across this land, we’re actually killing people by firing at one of the symptoms instead of the real problem.” To that I say, the chance for dialogue is just starting. And while a national dialogue is needed, let’s start locally. I’ve been so impressed with the actions of the Richmond Police Department in light of recent events. Richmond’s situation is not perfect but I can see that the RPD is trying to be proactive, sympathetic and helpful.
It’s becoming increasingly insulting that there is a perception that smart people cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. We can’t be supportive of police officers while at the same time be upset at police officers who abuse power or act in a brutal manner. We can’t address law enforcement shooting because more black people are being concentrated in communities of poverty. We can’t address poverty because we don’t have effective elected leadership….we can’t – we can’t – we can’t….STOP THE MADNESS.
It starts by acknowledging these are difficult problems and they will require multiform solutions. I am convinced that we have the ability to improve these circumstances starting at the local level by working together on an improved vision for our community. What does that look like? I don’t exactly know – and that’s why I’m not running for school board, city council or mayor or anything (not to mention I live in Henrico) but that is the challenge we face going into November’s election. What does Richmond’s future look like?
These are tense time, and I have a feeling that they will continue to be. At the very least, Mr. Holmberg’s column has helped me with one of my challenges. I recently had a conversation with my wife about the role I thought white people should take to change the current climate. I must admit, I felt weird when I received emails from a white friends asking me to assist them with a project of racial dialogue and unity. I couldn’t pinpoint it – I just didn’t know how to feel about it. Then I read this column and it became clear that we need everyone under the sun that can help add meaningful and responsible dialogue to this conversation. We need sophisticated solutions to these problems. I may not have all the answers but I’m sure somebody does and we can’t be stifled or distracted because the task is too big. We can tackle big and small problems at the same time. #WESEEIT