*Disclosure: I’m a rich, white man.
This week, race-related issues have made headlines. From the BLM protest at Pride, to the seemingly senseless shootings of black men by police, to the horrific killings of officers in Dallas, we are reminded that racial conflict is pervasive in North America. I have read many posts by very intelligent people who are on seeming “sides” of whats going on. But the matter of black vs white is anything but black and white. When stressed by emotions, it is our nature to dichotomize. But while a coin has two sides, society and it’s challenges does not.
For all the criticisms of BLM staging a sit-in at the Toronto Pride Parade and demanding that police floats be banned in 2017, I would remind us all that the very birth of Pride was political and necessitated by injustice of a marginalized population. The message of BLM must be separated from its tactics; to combine the two is to lose the forrest but for a tree. Speaking of losing perspective, it appears that BLM leaders are not favouring the historically-proven benefits of reconciliation. Groups of people that have murdered each other now live in relative harmony after undergoing heartbreaking reconciliation processes, letting go of historical injustices in favour of connecting through shared humanness. Their message, that black LGBTQ people continue to face discrimination, is valid and real and political and deserved attention through peaceful protest. Their demand to exclude police members from a parade that at its core represents human value is, in my mind, clouded by the very hate they hope to dissipate.
Viral videos are telling. They shed light in places once left dark, where officer testimony offered a deceptively bright moonshine on events where memory can hardly be considered reliable. Yet, they are only telling part of a story. I have worked in the field alongside police officers. They have, on at least one occasion, saved my life while risking their own. I thank police officers for their service; they have a tremendously shitty job more often than most people would care to know. With that shitty job comes shitty, but often reasonable, tactics. But it would seem police are still often too quick to pull the trigger. Stressful circumstances demand resiliency and bravery, and at times constables suffer from human failings that lead to bad decisions. Being caught in the fog of crisis is not an acceptable excuse. This problem, it appears, is systemic. It amounts to two things, training and culture, and both of those can be addressed. Shaky videos demand answers – even if those answers are more nuanced and granular than those who don’t make shoot-to-kill decisions can process. The symbol of justice is a scale that is meant to be level. Both police and civilians should be treated with due process, and penalties brought against those who break the law.
Line of duty deaths are horrifying for those who serve in dangerous roles. Our families and friends fret for our safety. An underlying stress digs into our dispositions, modifying our personalities and narrowing our viewpoints. No one should go to work in the service of others and be killed. What happened in Dallas is unspeakable. It is separate, so separate, from what happened in Louisiana and Minnesota (and on a Toronto streetcar). Motivated by these events, probably. But oh so separate. We can be outraged about a white officer killing a black motorist in Minnesota, and we can also be outraged about a black man killing a white officer in Dallas. We don’t need to choose because there is no choice unless we subscribe to a construct that is as outdated as it is insane.
I choose to be outraged by human lives cut short. The test for outrage is simple when you apply equality to all human life, an application easier to write than to truly believe. I struggle with this daily, and check my privilege at the door when trying to understand how it must feel to be a cop or a black person or a black cop in times like these. But, if I try, and I do try, to understand, I think back to the morning of June 12 when I read about 49 gay people being gunned down. I can’t list the myriad emotions that are rising to the surface even now as I write this post. I can’t understand but I can try to understand.
These issues are not black and white. They are more complex than a tweet or a sound byte or a blog post could capture. By coming together as human beings, we can try to understand better, and when we can’t, to know that it’s ok not to know, not to be understood, but just to hold value, and be valued, for being.
Thanks for reading. If you agree, or disagree, let’s have a discussion in the comment section. I”m eager to hear more views about these difficult topics.