Yes, it is possible to be saddened by both the senseless attack that murdered Dallas police officers and wounded police and civilians, and the killings of two African American men in incidents that did not need to end in death.
The fact that that very reasonable and obvious statement needed to be plainly said makes me sad, too – sad for a country that is so hardened into partisan camps that many have even compartmentalized their mourning.
The week of horrific violence is shocking, as are comments that barely pause for grief before resorting to blame – toward the NRA and gun-control advocates, those who live in Trump’s America vs. the citizens of Obama’s world, the left and the right and those in the uncertain middle, those who would privilege the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms over the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and right to peaceably assemble, and vice versa. Whatever voice you need to confirm a certain world view, you can find it somewhere.
In the spontaneous protests that grew and spread across the country after the news of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., there was passion, anger, resolve, but not violence – with marchers realizing the answer to violence is not more of the same.
Before shots rattled the night in Dallas, police officers interacted with those gathered – human being to human being – an accomplishment given the emotions and tension.
In Dallas, marchers stopped to pose for selfies with police in a city that had improved community relations and lower crime rates because of it.
Not too long after, though, in the wake of violence in a city that still seems tainted by the memory of a president assassinated there in another moment that stunned the world, more blame, this time of those who spread the message “Black Lives Matter,” ironically so soon after shootings in two different cities proved their voices are needed more than ever. Now some demonstrations have led to arrests and a sad cycle seems to continue.
The Dallas shooter represented no one but himself, that he made clear in his journal and ramblings. To blame others for his carefully planned acts makes as much sense as blaming conservative leaders and white Americans in general for Dylann Roof, who, in his twisted logic, murdered nine black church-goers in Charleston, S.C., on white America’s behalf.
Are we now taking our cues from fanatics on a mission?
Calls for collective mourning need to drown out those that traffic in the basest instinct and then, of course, there is a need to follow with suggestions of what the next step should be, and actions to end the lawless disregard for precious life, no matter the color or profession of the perpetrator or victim. In Dallas, many in the community have already joined together.
How could anyone not feel the hurt of the friends and family of Brent Thompson, the DART officer, a newlywed who proudly shows off his grandchild on social media? How could anyone not cry with the parents of the children served by Castile in his school’s cafeteria, slipping them needed hugs and graham crackers – “Mister Rogers with dreadlocks,” they called him?
But some who should be setting an example more closely resemble modern-day Neros, fiddling with announcements of another Congressional investigation on emails after the Republican FBI director James B. Comey has declared the case closed. Meanwhile, even Comey remains silent when pressed on issues of criminal justice reform and discussions of gun policy are set aside for another day.
Will reality – and not a political reality show — ever sink in?
Simplifying the narrative not only bends the truth but obliterates human casualties.
The Dallas shooter wounded protesters, including a mother who threw herself on top of her son to shield him and took the bullet instead. The man who killed two police officers sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn, N.Y., in December 2014 started his rampage by shooting his former girlfriend in the stomach; she often disappears when that story about a disturbed shooter is used to further the talking point of a “war” on police.
And events that don’t fit the narrative are just forgotten. It was white self-styled “revolutionaries” who executed two police officers in Las Vegas in June 2014, and predominantly white protesters, many armed and associated with the Bundy clan, involved in standoffs with the federal government in the West.
The hope is that the events of the past week would be a wake-up call for unity rather than an opportunity to dig deeper into respective bunkers.
In reading through the reactions to the shock of last week, I was struck by the words in the video statement of Republican Sen. Tim Scott, whose state had to work through the horror of Charleston: “Reacting to violence with violence will only lead to more heartache.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Junior said, ‘returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.’
We cannot, will not, let hate win. … America is a beautiful portrait of diversity, and part of that picture is understanding how our neighbors see the world. I’ve often described our nation as a patchwork quilt. These patches are black and white; red and brown; woven together by this notion of freedom and love. We have to look within ourselves to find the resources necessary to treat others as we would have them treat us.”
Scott’s words echoed those of President Obama, who is traveling to Dallas to offer comfort, guidance and hope that America is better than this. The alternative is too frightening to imagine.
-Mary C. Curtis
Mary C.Curtis is a columnist at Roll Call, NBCBLK, a contributor to NPR, a senior facilitator at The OpEd Project, and has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3