Here’s one more column on white cops killing black young men … sort of.
When liberals think about what some folks call the “epidemic” of white cops killing black youth, they seem to blame racism for the cops’ behavior. In other words, there is something going on internally in those white officers, a character defect if you will, that skews their judgment and causes them to treat blacks different from whites.
But those same liberals, when they think about what some people call the “epidemic” of blacks killing blacks — the homicide rate among whites is 2.5 per 100,000 and among blacks it’s 19.4 per 100,000 — they say it’s due to poverty, lack of jobs, and white racism. In other words, there’s something going on externally that skews their judgment and almost forces them to be more violent. By the way, a website called Data Lab states, “The Charleston killings were unusual in that it was a mass shooting — and also in that the suspect is of a different race than the victims (both black and white homicide victims are much more likely to be killed by someone of their own race).
When conservatives think about the epidemic of white cops killing black youth, they seem to blame the environment in which police officers work for the mistakes they make in shooting unarmed black young men. In other words, if you walked in the shoes of those officers, man, it’s like a combat zone out there. They’re working under so much stress in areas where the crime rate is very high. Hey, they make mistakes, but cut them a little slack.
Those same conservatives, when they think about the epidemic of blacks killing blacks, say it’s due to a character defect in those who turn to violence. If they would respect life, join the YMCA and vent their anger by pumping iron, if they would just go to church and be born again, they would be able to overcome the obstacles they face. In other words, the cause of black-on-black violence is internal and spiritual. The solution, therefore, is not spending money on social programs but poor people getting their ethical, motivational act together.
Interesting, isn’t it? Both liberals and conservatives view social problems through both internal and external lenses. And you can tell what side they are on by when they blame the environment as the cause of behavior.
These two different ways of perceiving reality go way back. Around the turn of the century, two great African American thinkers viewed the problem through two different lenses. W.E.B. DuBois blamed the problems facing his people on the “system.” Bring justice into the system and the problems will disappear.
Booker T. Washington blamed the character inside for a person’s behavior. He founded Tuskegee Institute, a historical black college, because he believed that if you give people skills that empower them to do work benefitting the community in which they live, they will earn the respect of the community and have the strong character needed to contribute to society rather than burn community businesses in outbursts of rage.
A few weeks ago, I interviewed Max Weiss, the rabbi at Oak Park Temple, in the morning. He participated in the Journey for Justice sponsored by the NAACP, a march seeking to change the unjust system, which the marchers believe is the root cause of tragic shootings we’ve witnessed.
That evening I attended the men’s fellowship at Living Word Christian Center where Pastor Bill Winston talked about changing the spiritual orientation of the 400 men in attendance and not a word about changing the system.
The contrast was breathtaking. Both men I interviewed had compelling statements about what is wrong and what we should do about it. My head was spinning for several days. Who had the right perspective, Rabbi Weiss or Pastor Winston?
The answer, of course, is yes. Liberals need to empathize with police officers and not assume, in a knee-jerk way, that racism is the cause of every mistake cops make; and they need to join the great majority of black folks who deplore the violence in their own communities, go to church with them and pray for hearts to be changed.
Likewise, conservatives need to face the reality that racism is a powerful reality entrenched in American society; and that racism must be treated the way the Forest Park police treat loose cannons in the FPPD. One time Chief Aftanas told me they constantly are teaching our officers how to de-escalate tense situations instead of taking hostility personally, and if officers don’t get the message, they are disciplined. If they still don’t get the message, they are fired.
In the same manner, conservatives need to acknowledge that the environment in which we live, does strongly influence the way we behave. I’m all for giving one’s life to Jesus. Most of my adult working life was devoted to helping people do that. But I also have enough experience in this tired world to know that a lot of powerful people don’t want to and aren’t going to do that, and they’re the ones running the system.