Addressing violence matters

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

To put it lightly, this past week has been a nightmare for Americans. Many of you have heard about the shootings that took place last week, beginning with the death of Alton Sterling.

Sterling was apprehended by cops while allegedly illegally selling CDs outside a convenience store, where he was pinned to the ground by two police officers and fatally shot in the chest. He wasn't threatening the officers with a weapon. He wasn't guilty of anything but allegedly illegally selling CDs. Yet he was tackled, restrained and shot multiple times. Well, he wasn't just selling CDs. He was selling CDs while being black.

A day after his death, another black man was gunned down by a police officer during a routine traffic stop. That man, Philando Castile, did have a gun on him but he didn't threaten the officers with it. Castile had a conceal carry license and offered this information at the beginning of the traffic stop. Somehow, that didn't prevent his murder.

He and Sterling have joined a long line of unarmed black men who have died at the hands of cops or security officers. When I say a long line, I mean it. A short list of these deaths includes Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, Tony Robinson, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray. In several of these cases, officers reported mistaking a toy gun or a pill bottle or a stun gun for a weapon.

I feel it's important to note that I am not anti-cop. I have worked with many police officers in our county, and I know we have good men and women protecting us here. We have that here. Fortunately, we live in a community where race isn't a huge problem. We don't have riots or super high crime rates in Carroll County. Because of that, it can be tough to understand why the issue of black men being killed by cops is so important.

It was especially hard for me to understand until last week's shootings occurred. After Sterling and Castile died, I did something I haven't done before. I watched the videos of their deaths. I didn't want to. Who wants to watch people die? I did it because I have ignored these deaths until now, because it's easy to pretend all is well when these things aren't happening in your backyard. What I saw stunned me. Sterling wasn't waving a gun at the cops or threatening to kill them. He was struggling as many do when they're outnumbered and pinned to the ground, but since when has resisting arrest been grounds for murder?

The response to these killings echoed throughout America, from large metropolitan areas to small communities like ours. I saw every argument you could imagine on social media. "Not all cops are bad!" one of my friends wrote. I agree with that. "We have to address this racism!" another urged. I agree with that, too. It didn't feel like we were getting any closer to finding a solution to this problem, but people were actively talking about it. Talking about something like this is important. That's the first step toward making it better.

Then at a Dallas protest on Thursday, five police officers were killed by a sniper. Like Sterling, those police officers weren't threatening anybody. They were just doing their job, and it cost them their lives. I'm incredibly heartbroken over those killings. It must be terrifying to be a police officer -- or a police officer's loved one -- and know this is the kind of thing that could happen at any given moment. That's so scary.

Those police officers should not have died, just as Sterling and Castile should not have died. I will never excuse cold-blooded murder for any reason, but that doesn't mean I don't see a correlation between the killings. For far too long, black men have been killed by police officers for offenses that don't warrant death. When you see your neighbors being killed over and over again, it can feel as if nothing is being done to stop it. Those who are more extreme or reactionary will eventually respond with violence, as we saw in Dallas last Thursday.

Not all police officers perpetuate needless violence against the black community. I'd say most police officers don't. Unfortunately, some of them do. Not all black people commit violent crimes. I'd say most black people don't. Unfortunately, some of them do. So where do we go from here?

I say we sit down and have a conversation about it. It's not going to be pleasant, and we won't solve any of these problems any time soon. But we need to talk about racism and violence and police officers who don't follow protocol without jumping to conclusions or attacking one another. If we keep yelling at each other, this violence will continue to happen.

The violence needs to stop. We need to discuss this problem like the sensible and caring adults we all should be. And then, we need to take action to make it better.

* * *

Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com.