To believe we can simply choose between supporting police officers who risk their lives to protect us, or supporting the young men of color who are too often the target of unfair and even deadly policing, is to choose incorrectly.
For the common good, we all have a moral obligation to care deeply about all of them.
We must be able to keep concern for both in our minds and our hearts. We must fight the impulse toward identity politics that would make us support either police officers or men of color so viscerally that we banish compassion for the group we identify with less.
Rarely have the events of one week provided such a strong temptation to pick a side to support. The killings of five police officers working a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas on Thursday evening, and the wounding of nine other people, have plunged many more into despair. How can we get ourselves out of this spiral of violence?
Among those who identify only with law enforcement officers, there is anger. But on the other side, videos of the two killings of black men by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, have enraged those who see police violence against men of color as a deliberate pattern and see police only as the enemy.
Both patterns of tragedy are sickening and unacceptable. And so are the pitched battles between those who care too much about one pattern of tragedy and too little about the other.
When Dallas Police Chief David Brown addressed the media Friday, his somber, intense demeanor seemed to reflect the heartache elicited by all of the violence in our nation. Few are more expert in that pain than Brown, whose personal tale of violent tragedy runs so deep as to be almost incomprehensible. Brown lost a police partner to violence 1988. His younger brother was killed by drug dealers in 1991. And in 2010, seven weeks after he took over the leadership of the Dallas department, his 27-year-old son, also named David, killed a police officer and a civilian before being shot and killed by officers responding to the scene.
“We’re hurting,” Brown said. “Our profession is hurting. Dallas officers are hurting. We are heartbroken. There are no words to describe the atrocity that occurred to our city. All I know is that this must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens.”
Now a black chief must bury his officers, killed by a black man who said he was outraged about how police treat blacks. Brown’s life is an example of how complex and intertwined policing issues have become.
Slogans used at the expense of the rights and safety of others will only continue this deepening mistrust. Horrific websites that encourage hatred of cops or cry that a war between the races is upon us inflame a conflict that need not and should not happen.
No police officer should be attacked. No civilians should face unjustified police violence, often only because of the color of their skin or the communities where they live.
The path to a safer, more peaceful society must lead all of us there. Otherwise, we’ll get nowhere. — The editorial board