Earlier today, I wrote this on Facebook:

My head is reeling today as I continue to process the last few days. Implicit bias, gun control, racism, social justice, safety, traffic stops, policing…. Many issues wrapped in heartache and loss.

One of the challenges magnified by Social Media is to lump these three specific events together as if they were one situation. Indeed there are reasons to connect them (not to mention connecting them to other previous events too), but there is also a danger in doing that: the issues and specifics of each are overlooked. In fact, real facts and details get replaced with overly simplistic sound bites and memes such that any dialogue isn’t about a real event, but rather about some manufactured discourse.

A friend on Facebook commented, “I’m still grappling with the massacre in Orlando, and now all of this. It is too much.” Indeed, it is too much. So easily, we as bystanders to these events, are in a state of reaction to one, when the next happens and increases the intensity of our reaction, and then the next, and the next.  Any effort to process each is short-circuited, and we reach for someone to blame as well as a quick fix, like some new law. The issue is gun control, or the issue is racism, or the issue is police over-reaction and brutality. But none of these are the issue— as if there is one overarching issue. All of these are district issues that connect and intersect, but they are also all issues individually, and any efforts to address them requires that we do our best to step back from our reactions and gain enough distance and and a quieted mind or else we won’t be able to deal with all the various issues separately.

A meme on Facebook cites a list of white persons who pointed guns at police but were not killed (a reaction to those who suggest that the dead black men had it coming by threatening the police). But the meme is an example of a manufactured narrative. In the case of Philando Castile, he never threatened the police. He merely reached for his identification. A better meme might ask how many white people reached for their identifications and lived.

One issue I haven’t seen anyone talk about enough in the national media, is how these events sit within a history of a complicated and fractured relationship between the police and the Black community. This idea began to enter the discourse after Ferguson a year ago, but has never really been fully thought through and understood. In question form, it might look like this: Why do black men die so frequently at the hands of the police, even when stopped for a simple traffic stop?

Historians can paint a very long history for this police/community relationship dating back to slavery, and the way patrols of men were used to catch runaway slaves:

But today, this police/community relationship is even more complex as police are not all white, and the role of police is more varied. Their job is public safety, but who needs to be made safe and by what means  are ideas worth talking more about.

Last night’s event may, on the surface, seem like the gravest of the past few days, as five officers were murdered, but I’d argue that the deaths of two black men on the two previous nights are so crucial to focus on because they fall within a longer history of black deaths at the hands of the police.

Last night’s event is better understood within the context of individuals who take justice into their own hands and the ease with which so many have guns. I think I heard today, there are over 300 million guns owned by the American public. It isn’t the right way for things to happen, but it can be understood logically, that if members of the public don’t feel their concerns are being addressed they are likely to act out of frustration and anger.

So, what is the answer? Depends on which question is being asked and why. There is no simple solution, except to say that change must happen. We can not simply continue to do nothing. Efforts to improve police/community relations must be happening everywhere, and progress can be so easily lost by events outside your control. So concerted efforts towards this goal must be ongoing with a focus on the long term gains as well as short term improvements. I believe most everyone can agree we have a gun problem, but there seems so little agreement on just what that problem is, or ways to actually address it.

I think a great start is more dialogue about the history of policing and it’s connection to slavery and the subjugation of black people.We must come to terms with this past if we are going to be able to find solutions today.

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