Sunday, July 10, 2016

The way forward -- real empathy for the other side is beginning to talk hold in Dallas.

photo:  Laura Bockman, Getty
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott does not seem to be one of those who gets it.   He spoke at a press conference in Dallas Friday, and he focused mostly on the heroism and sacrifice of police officers.  He did make abstract reference to the need for Texans to "unite" and for there to be "unity" among all citizens.    But he referred to the black gunman contemptuously as "the coward," and he never once said the words "black community," or mentioned the Black Live Matter movement, nor the peaceful rally at which the massacre occurred -- nor the two deaths of black men by police that were being mourned by the rally.   It was as though his glasses had a filter that blocked out one side of this tragedy.

The Texas governor praised the policeOf course that was appropriate, given what they had just been through.   But it was with no context and no empathy for the black experience in America.   I frankly didn't expect much more from him.   It was something of a surprise that he didn't actually blame the BLM organizers or the black community -- as did his Lt. Governor in a statement the day before.   Given the chance, by a reporter's question, to repudiate those remarks, Gov. Abbott sidestepped and went back to praising the police.

OK.   The Texas governor and lieutenant governor represent the old breed of Southern Republicans who, from the black community perspective just do not get it.

But I believe that these two deaths of young black men by white police officers, so clearly documented and so uncalled-for -- coupled with the sniper killing of five white police officers by an angry, perhaps deranged young black man -- may paradoxically be the catalyst for real progress.    From both black and white people, we're seeing efforts to reach across the divide. 

What has been most missing is each side being able to "walk in the shoes" of the other, to empathically identify with what their counterparts experience:   the young black man and his family who know the risks every time he leaves the house;   and the families of the police officers (black and white) who know the risks every time he or she leaves the house to go on duty.   In this mutual loss, they can know what it's like for the other.   There have been moving letters, even an OpEd in the New York Times by the mother of Michael Brown.   Their experience is the loss of their sons, whether black young men or white police officers.

Of all people to be cited as a force for good, Newt Gingrich is one of the conservatives who seems to be beginning to get it.   Here's what he said about the "everyday danger" faced by black Americans.
“Sometimes, for white people, it’s difficult to appreciate how real that is. . . .  It took me a long time . . . to understand that if you are a normal white American, the truth is that you don’t understand being black in America, and you instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk. . . .

“[I]t is more dangerous to be black in America.  It is more dangerous, in that they are substantially more likely to end up in a situation where the police don't respect you and where you could easily get killed. . . ."
It's not just Gingrich. is a reliably conservative news and opinion web site.  Its managing editor Leon H. Wolf reflected on his own white experience:
“As the child of white parents who grew up in the rural panhandle of Texas, I was taught that police were there to help, any time I had a problem I should go to them. . . . Now imagine, for a minute, that your parents instead grew up as black people in the 50s or 60s in one of the many areas where police were often the agents of ― let’s call it what it was ― white oppression. How might that have changed, for understandable reasons, the way not only those people but also their children and their children’s children interact with the police?. . .

 “I don’t think reasonable people can disagree that excessive police force is punished way less often than it actually happens, . . . And that’s the kind of problem that leads to people taking up guns and committing acts of violence - tragically (and with evil intent) against cops who as far as we know have done nothing wrong.”
I'm not a regular reader of RedState, but this seems new from any conservative.  Another web site that is conservative but not rabidly so, The Daily Caller, carried a piece by senior contributor Matt K. Lewis:
“In the era of Facebook Live and smart phones, it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than the fact that police brutality toward African-Americans is a pervasive problem that has been going on for generations. . . .  Seriously, absent video proof, how many innocent African-Americans have been beaten or killed over the last hundred years by the police—with little or no media coverage or scrutiny?”
Lewis, like Wolf, recognizes that growing up with the white privilege of unquestionably trusting the cops blinds people to the reality of police discrimination and brutality.   Lewis adds:
“If there’s any good to come from this horrible trend, it may be that the scales are coming off the eyes of a lot of well meaning, if naive, white Americans. . . .  My hope is that this will change public opinion to the point that we can change public policy.”
So, perhaps we're seeing a crack in the door that separates the two sides.   Both RedState and Daily Caller have previously criticized Black Lives Matter and debunked the idea that police racism is particularly widespread.    There seems to be some recognizition -- among these three conservative voices, at least -- that the evidence is now too clear to ignore.   We have a problem of racism, including in many of our police forces.

But back to my original point -- that perhaps both sides losing people in tragic death so close together will bring out the empathy from both sides.   I've seen numerous messages and gestures from black people reaching out to families of the slain officers.   And I've seen resolute, young leaders of the Black Lives Matter and Next Generation Action Network, who organized the Dallas rally, reaffirming their commitment to peaceful protest and non-violence.

The most moving visual images in the aftermath, to me, were caught on MSNBC news footage Friday night.   It showed an apparently damaged police car parked on the street that had become a site for expression of sympathy for the slain officers.    The clip showed one after another a young black person walking over to lay flowers on the hood of the car. 


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