Watkins: Address our divides after Dallas
How do we make sense of what is going on in America today?
How do we wrap our head around seeing a black man die on a Facebook livestream while a 4-year-old comforts her mom who is calmly narrating the killing of her boyfriend by a police officer who pulled them over for a routine traffic stop?
The death of two African-American men, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile, in Falcon Heights — both at the hands of police officers — has pulled back the scab of our ongoing American saga of noted killings since the death of Michael Brown in 2014 in Ferguson.
Dallas once again grabbed headlines when only blocks from where President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, carnage broke out and five police officers were gunned down. The shooter, a 25-year-old African-American male, reportedly told police he “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”
This madness saw an African-American former military man open fire on Dallas police who were watching peaceful demonstrators, ironically, protest the recent killings of African-Americans at the hands of police.
As the political left and right are attempting to put their spin on this bigotry and evil, consider an old Chinese saying that we should consider: “Seek truth from facts.”
President Barack Obama addressed the nation from Poland during these tragic events: “African-Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over,” Obama said. “After being pulled over, African-Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year, African-Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites. African-Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites. African-American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.”
According to The Washington Post, 509 people have been shot and killed by police in 2015. And while black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 40 percent of unarmed men shot to death by police in 2015.
These troubling statistics are perhaps made only worse by the level of distrust and disgust which is building in the U.S. over violence and its cause. In many communities in America, African-Americans simply do not trust the police.
There is also a backlash and fear among police that they may be assassinated for doing their job and that the few bad apples within their ranks are tainting all the good men and women who take their oath to “serve and protect” seriously.
Even though most African-American parents have had “the conversation” with their children about how to “behave” when in the presence of police, even when following the rules, far too many of their children end up dead with what should be a non-eventful police interaction.
It is time for every mayor and governor to start a conversation around race, violence, and justice that has created a deep chasm in this nation. Imagine the ideas generated by groups convened by 50 governors and countless mayors to help solve this problem and help heal our nation.
The ideas generated should be shared at a national summit on justice to be hosted by our new president within his or her first 100 days in office. It should be a national goal to implement the top 10 ideas by the end of 2017 and not stop until this social cancer is eradicated.
We are at a crucible, America.
The death, carnage and stain on our national psyche will only begin to be erased when we say enough is enough, mean it and take action.
Tom Watkins is president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.