It has often been said that America needs to have a serious conversation about race. That time may be now, especially if Americans can focus their attention on it for more than a few weeks, after the news outlets lose interest. Hopefully that will happen.
The terrible killing of George Floyd was just a little too much for people to rationalize as an acceptable result of policing. There was clearly more to this, and the brutality displayed as officers stood by without intervention was emblematic of the license that some police give themselves to act out. The fact that procedures neither prohibited the brutality nor required intervention is a clear indication that things need to change. I hope the public outcry will stimulate some real reform. I was heartened as our own sheriff, Hubert Peterkin, publicly took responsibility as a member of the law enforcement establishment.
Why does it seem that many policemen cross the lines of decency in their duties to serve and protect? Does the mental stress of the job push police over the edge? Are some police just bad people looking for a chance to be the bullies that they already are? Are police, who have a very difficult job that requires skills in many areas, sometimes not equipped for the challenges? Does the disdain that some members of the public have for them provoke bad reactions? I think all are true and each of these could be addressed.
The best suggestions I have heard are that the duties of police need to be redefined and stripped of the responsibilities that would better be handled by social workers, people trained in psychology or other skills more applicable to certain types of intervention. Perhaps every police team should have one observer who has the responsibility to pull back and report immediately to their organization if there is bad acting. This might put team members in constant tension, but only if bad acting is occurring. Maybe this tension would sort out the bad police from the good and allow them to be removed from their jobs. The “immunity” that some police have from being fired and disciplined would seem to warrant serious consideration for reform.
While police killings are a focus of race problems, they are really just the tip of the iceberg that lies beneath. While this iceberg may be slowly melting, there are many who cling to the ice. This deep-seated racism has always puzzled me. The enslavement of human beings was not acceptable, so these enslaved beings were treated as less than human. The economic benefits, as usual, outweighed the moral dilemma that white society surely felt. After the abolishment of slavery, instead of admitting that we were wrong and giving Blacks the opportunity to join society as free men, white America chose to keep Blacks “in their place” by giving them little opportunity for education or advancement. It might be a stretch for attitudes to turn on a dime, but these attitudes still persist after many generations. Why? Is it that many people feel the need to elevate themselves in their minds by feeling superior to another race or races?
The battle against racism is one that we need to fully engage in. There is so much evidence of the equality of the races that there is no intellectual argument for white superiority left. Why must some cling to this? Recent events indicate that racism is now hanging on against the swelling anti-racist tide. We have passed the laws, but now need to take them to the streets in our everyday lives, reaching out to each other with acceptance and understanding of the ongoing plight of Black Americans in particular. As a white man, I cannot walk in a black man’s shoes, but I can fully accept him as an equal who deserves every chance in life. We must understand that our institutions, at their core, have been shaped by racial prejudice and that they need to be rethought and retooled.
Even good reforms will not be enough. Each race needs to be more pro-active in accepting and embracing other races. A simple smile to people that you meet indicates that you accept them. I have seen a smile immediately adjust the attitudes of strangers, particularly of other races.
I hope and believe our younger citizens have more acceptance of all races and will demand change. It appears that Congress is currently skirting the issue as usual.