A Time for Somber Reflection

It is more than just bad policing

We are in the throes of mourning the death of two New York City Policemen, on the heels of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. We are raw. Emotions have spilled like blood from deep wounds. We need time to process. We need time to grieve. We need to catch our collective breath.   We need time to come to grips with the tragic series of events that have shaken our country. What we do know is that the violence is overwhelming and somehow we must get it to stop.

The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have galvanized people across the country. Initial protests over the deaths of these two individuals increased dramatically in the wake of the Grand Juries not indicting the police officers involved. Uncovered a deep gulf between the police and the people they serve.

My concerns run deeper than whether indictments were handed down. There are other frankly more important issues that must be addressed. I am deeply troubled when a man repeatedly pleads 11 times that he cannot breathe and the police who have subdued him are unable to move from actively bringing him under control to actively engaging in the humanity of helping him once he was down. I am deeply troubled that a man’s body remained laying in the street for four hours rather than being treated with basic dignity. The lack of humanity is deeply distressing, and it goes far beyond bad actions of particular police.

Our problems are a deep divide separating whole segments of society from the institutions that are supposed to protect, defend and nurture them. Oppression is the result of the separating segments of society already prejudged as unsavory from the rest of “civil” society. It is more than a new approach to policing and re-examining the way our criminal justice system metes out punishment, as important as these changes are. It goes to the fabric of our country. It permeates our society and cannot be simply fixed by changes implemented at the top. All of us have responsibility to understand what is wrong and how we might change it.

Government can make the police of Ferguson look more like the people of Ferguson. But it is the people of Ferguson who must also invest in the infrastructure the schools and the families to build minds and to instill values. It is up to the locals and their police to be sensitive to each other. It is up to the broader society to bring economic opportunity and the possibility of upward mobility, the opportunity to aspire to become something more. It is up to us.

Marching is important if it serves as a first step to spur the people. Now the next step is to organize and develop goals and a strategy with political clout to effect change. And the rest of us need to support this work knowing that through this process we are all strengthened. This is the beginning of the next important phase of the Civil Rights movement in our great country.

The Attorney General of the United States seems as perplexed as many of us and has ordered a Federal Investigation into the death of Eric Garner. This might shed light on a process that many found disappointing to say the least. But this investigation cannot provide justice for Eric Garner; it is for our future. The civil rights advances of the past did not happen solely by new law or court order. The advances happen and endure only when there is sufficient will of the people to demand we overcome the status quo and demand better of our institutions and ourselves.

Our demonstrations proclaim “Black Lives Matter.” All lives matter. Everyone deserves to live. We are a nation of laws. And those laws must apply to all to protect the weak so that all may have the opportunity to pursue, free from violence and fear, the inalienable rights upon which our nation was founded.

But for now, let us take time to grieve and bury our dead. Then let us return and start the process of making change.