We Americans have embraced a culture of violence. We have allowed it to permeate our lives, like cancer growing and spreading through every pore in our body. The rest of the world must think all of us are insane to live this way. We are collectively insane to allow it to continue. Every day, each of us makes the choice to ignore it, to say nothing about it, to do nothing about it.
Two separate killings of unarmed black men in two days earlier this week, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Tuesday, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Missouri, Wednesday, spurred the attack last night on Dallas police officers. Four Dallas Police Department officers and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer were killed, and many others wounded, as officers worked to protect the crowd. It was a well-planned attack, using snipers to shoot at officers patrolling a large gathering of people protesting the earlier killings. The names of the DPD and DART officers have not yet been released.
Anton Sterling being attacked by police officers
The events of the last few days resulted from the systematic persecution of Black American men by law enforcement officers. It’s not a new thing—our news reporters quickly included statistics to compare them against previous, equally horrific events. This is only one symptom of the cancer, but one that can be rectified.
The Los Angeles Police Department, once thought of as the most brutal in the nation, has spent the last twenty-four years reforming itself, after the now infamous beating of Rodney King in 1992, which was one of the first captured on video by a bystander. It hasn’t been easy and the change has been very slow, but it is changing. The Atlantic’s CityLab wrote about it after the beating and death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, just over a year ago.
Police officers need to not only be held accountable for their actions, but also carefully selected and trained to be community activists. The whole police culture in our country needs to change. They are meant to protect us, not kill us—regardless of the color of our skin or our socio-economic status.
I’ve been reading Tweets and Facebook posts about these events, and a predominant theme is the feeling of helplessness. People ask, “what can I do?” Changing the local police department is something we all have some control over. It would be a start. Trying to change local gun laws is another thing anyone, or everyone, can take a part in.
Another frequently seen topic on both Twitter and Facebook is prayer. “Pray for peace.” “Pray for the officers.” Prayer might make you feel better, and that’s fine, but it does nothing to change the situation. Prayer is passive acceptance. I’m going to guess most of the folks making these comments are members of some religious congregation. You have collective power. Influence your place of worship to get involved in the local community to make a difference, and be part of that difference.
We, collectively, are responsible for the community we live in, and by community, I mean our cities, our states and our country. This includes not only how we treat each other, but how we treat foreign nations. Our violence oozes into the rest of the world. We are war mongers. But, we have control over who we elect. Elect the officials, at all levels, who are the most likely to change our violent society into a kinder, gentler nation.
In the mean time, remember the power of video and the internet. With the plethora of smart phones in most people’s pockets, we can be proponents in changing our police forces by creating the evidence to hold officers accountable. Use the power in your hand whenever you see an encounter between police officers and the individuals they interact with.
Another use of video to promote accountability is to have all officers wearing cameras. Some police departments are already doing this. See if you can get your local department to embrace this idea. It provides an unbiased account of events.
Get involved. Be the change.
Copyright ©2014-16 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.