Let's talk about Dallas. And St. Paul. And Baton Rouge as well. I mean, let's really talk. Let's move past the simplistic statements about race and policing and violence and guns. Let's, for once, acknowledge that we are facing some very, very serious problems. Problems that are complex. Problems that can't be solved by everybody holding hands and singing kumbayah. Problems that can't be solved by cracking down on one religious or racial group. Problems that can't be solved by building walls, or eliminating all guns or any of the other so-called solutions that have been offered up. Let's really talk about the fact that Dallas and St. Paul and Baton Rouge, not to mention Orlando and Newtown and so many other incidents, show us that we have failed on many fronts to really address some of the serious issues we are facing today. Let us take time to sort out those issues and recognize that while they are closely interrelated, focusing on just one or another of them will not bring about the peaceful society for which many Americans long.
First racism and the things that grow out of it. Things like white privilege. Things like ongoing poverty in certain sectors of the population. "But I'm not a racist," many will say. And that may indeed be true, but our very institutions perpetuate racial divides in many ways. I'm not pretending to unravel all that here--I'm just pointing out the reality as I see it. We need to go deeper, we need to really wrestle with the issue of race in America.
Second, violence. We live in a culture permeated by violence. It is laced throughout our media. Video games. Books. Movies. The internet. So what is violence really all about? Why do we so often feel the need to resort to violence? I know, these questions are as old as humankind--but we need to discuss them and at least be honest about the answers.
Third, guns. There are a lot of guns in America. A lot. In fact, there is basically one gun for every man, woman and child in America. (www.gunfaqs.org) It only makes sense: the more guns you have available to people, the greater the chance they will be used. But simply making all guns illegal won't solve the problems associated with gun violence. Our conversations about guns need to be nuanced, thoughtful--but also honest. Can we for once get away from the all or nothing thinking that seems to dominate this particular debate?
Fourth policing. Obviously, police policy and practices are impacted by all of the above. But there are other issues as well. The importance of recruitment and training. The importance of providing real support for law enforcement officials (including adequate funding and salaries). The need to move away from the "us versus them" approach. Law enforcement officials are public servants--and that means the whole public.
On this particular Monday there are families in Dallas and St. Paul and Baton Rouge that are mourning the deaths of their loved ones. We join them in their grief. It is right that we do so. But let us do more than merely mourn. Let us have the courage to confess that as a nation we have failed to live up to the ideals we profess. And then, let us work together, across party lines, across ideological lines, across racial and religious lines, to find solutions that work. Educate yourself about the issues at hand. Write your representatives in government and share your frustrations, and your hopes. Join a local group working on one or another of these problems. Yes, pray about them. Yes, hold the victims in your thoughts. But let's not merely mourn. Let's act.