A time to heal

Racially-charged killings demand greater understanding, reconciliation

THE MURDER OF two black men at the hands of the police earlier this week and the killing of five law enforcement officers in Dallas Thursday night is a double reminder of how hot the matter of race burns in this country and how much we must also remain focused on protecting the police.

The murders of Alton Sterling, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Tuesday and Philandro Castile in Minnesota a day later were horrendous. Their untimely deaths shocked the nation as instances where young black men again were victimized by overzealous police officers.

Both men sadly joined the unbelievably embarrassing roster of recent victims of police brutality, which includes Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missiouri, Eric Garner in New York City, and Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina. Collectively, these men reflect an ongoing racial crisis in our country. The crisis reveals the sharp, uneven divisions existing between local police and black citizens living in communities whom they presume to protect.

In the wake of high profile racial killings of black men at the hands of law enforcement there lays an undeniable gulf in communication, compassion, and commitment toward seriously addressing issues of racial antipathy and reconciliation.

Blacks are increasing frustrated by the growing number of videos depicting police assaults on African-American men that now populate social media. Whites are coming to agree that the problem of police brutality is more significant than they thought.

But where are the answers, locally in Massachusetts and nationally?

Certainly, we must start with greater police training. Every rank among the police departments across the nation must become better at deescalating conflict between law enforcement officers and black citizens.

We must also commit more time as individuals and communities to closing the racial gap by engaging in acts of community building. That calls for a serious commitment toward protracted dialogue and communal participation. This process may begin in our lifetime and extend into the next generation. After all, the racial chasm we are currently experiencing is tragically wide and deep.

We must also be careful about protecting the police. This must be done despite the episodic bad behavior that some law enforcement officers display. We can safely say that institutionalized racism exists within police departments. But that does not mean that all police officers are racist.

At the same time, if the police break the law by abusing the civil rights of citizens, we must ensure that they suffer grave consequences.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s call for increasing penalties for criminals convicted of assaulting police officers is another step in the right direction. After all, police officers take on the oath of protecting the public. They swear to ensure safety where and when they must. They commit to protecting citizens from the scourge of drugs, gang life as well as white-collar crime.

Baker adroitly knows that while the public pays the salaries of police officers, they should be recognized as vital within our civil society — despite the small number of law enforcement officers who do wrong.  Moreover, Baker’s legislation articulates the value of public servants who risk their lives.

To this extent we must recognize that blue lives matter as much as black lives matter.

The murder of five officers in Dallas punctuates this sentiment. It also suggests how critical it is to recognize that the division between the public and the police must be closed.

We have a high racial mountain to climb in Massachusetts and across the nation. The journey to redemption will be daunting. It will only begin after we commit to achieving empathy towards each other along the lines of race.

Since celebrating our nation’s independence on Monday, our country has witnessed seven highly visible instances of fatal violence connected to race.

Meet the Author

Shame on all of us if we don’t soon aspire toward making our local and national communities less racially contentious.

Kevin C. Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition, which focuses on civic literacy, civic policy and electoral justice.