Editorial: Shootings must not incite race war

The Detroit News

The last thing we need in this country is a race war, particularly aimed at police officers. That’s why it’s critical that in the hours and days following the massacre in Dallas of five police officers—likely set off by two separate incidents earlier this week in which black men were shot and killed by white police officers—the media, police and elected officials focus on diffusing tension rather than stoking it.

We can’t let isolated incidents fuel rage and justify even more loss of life. Police officers do important work, typically for little pay. And they risk their lives every day to protect citizens. As Dallas Police Chief David Brown said early Friday morning, even as his officers were under attack, they were rushing toward the bullets to protect innocent bystanders.

But that does not justify the actions of a few bad actors in police forces—or the bully-like behavior with which those actors treat citizens.

Two separate incidents seem to have refueled anger over police brutality, particularly toward black men, which has received increased attention since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

Alton Sterling, a black man, was killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, while subdued on the ground—and that interaction was recorded.

Philando Castile, also a black man, what shot with four bullets after reaching into his pocket for his identification during a routine traffic stop. His girlfriend’s young daughter was in the car during the shooting.

Some police officers might lack the proper training, or the will to do the right thing. More needs to be done to coach officers on these kinds of situations in which they might feel threatened, but there is no threat.

We can argue ad infinitum whether this started out about race, about unreasonable fears of black men by police and about disproportionate criminality by ethnicity. White people, too, are shot by police every day, and actually more whites than blacks are shot by police every year.

But 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, according to a comprehensive report compiled by The Washington Post.

The report also found a disproportionate number—3 in 5—of those killed after exhibiting less threatening behavior than brandishing a gun were black or Hispanic.

And it’s certainly about race now, with this latest chapter—slaughter of white cops, allegedly by one black man set out to murder them—escalating the racial component to unprecedented heights.

Better communication and community policing must be encouraged throughout the country to help decrease these kinds of incidents, and the responses to them, which are often more violent than the initial shooting.

Detroit has taken this approach in recent years, as have many other cities—including Dallas. That city actually employs relatively progressive policing tactics, which makes the massacre of officers all the less logical.

President Barack Obama has rightly condemned the Dallas murders, and the country will look to him for further leadership on this highly emotional issue. Not only as America’s first black president, but its current president, Obama must resist the temptation to stoke reaction after each successive incident.

We will learn more about the suspect in the Dallas shooting in the days ahead, and his true motives.

This won’t be an easy issue to solve, nor will it be done quickly. But we can’t let these events incite race wars, or broad sweeping wars between police and citizens.