What IS going on with our country?
A little over a month ago, following the massacre at the “Pulse” nightclub in Orlando, I wrote a column entitled, “A Nation On Simmer,” in which I lamented the insanity that seemed to exist within America when it came to gun-related violence. More specifically, I questioned those who tended to blame the availability of firearms for the recent dramatic rise in firearm-related violence and murders and, further, made the contention that the root cause of that problem lay not in the steel that we could get into our hands, but in the evil we had allowed to come into our hearts.
Today I long for that now-simpler time. In the aftermath of events in Dallas and now Baton Rouge this nation I once thought was merely on simmer is now, I fear, a roiling pot under constant boil, with the lid at a steady rattle—and with no indication of the heat soon being turned down. And I am truly concerned what the balance of this Summer of 2016 might have in store.
There’s an anger in the country that I haven’t seen in my adult life. And it’s growing across all aspects of the social spectrum. And almost daily, at that, it seems.
At age 56, I can recall hearing and reading about turbulent 1968, from the Orangeburg Massacre at South Carolina State University in February, to riots and protests in Washington, Chicago, Baltimore, and other cities across the US in the aftermath of the April 4 assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., followed in June by the assassination of front-running Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, as well as the civil unrest that was harshly dealt with by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley during the Democratic National Convention held in that city in August of that year.
To be perfectly honest, I fear a reprise of that scarring summer—perhaps America’s ugliest year of the modern era—is not outside the realm of possibility. There just doesn’t seem to be a throttle-back governor on our individual outrage any more; everyone seems righteously indignant and unwilling to even take a second glance at anyone’s opinion that even slightly contradicts their own.
How did we get HERE? How did we regress so far backward?
Well, the first thing we’ve got to do is talk about the elephant in the room: race relations.
So, to make it easy for you, I’ll make it personal for me. Again, in my little more than half-century on this Earth, I’ve seen a great deal of change. I came along just as segregation was finally being cast aside, and I was extremely lucky that I grew up in an integrated school system. My generation was really the first to fully be accepting of the new social paradigm: equal and mixed. And I am a far better person for having grown up in that environment. That said, I can still recall there being two doors at the doctor’s office, one for whites and one for blacks, both of which led to a single room separated by a wall down the center. And there were other segregationist vestiges of previous times that I recall from my youth. So I know, or can at least imagine, how disparaged and discouraged many blacks may have felt, and maybe disenchanted or even disenfranchised to the point of extremism, ie: creation of The Black Panther Party in the 60’s.
Yes, I’m white. But I really can understand the Black perspective. Or the Hispanic. Or the Puerto Rican. Or the Thai or Laotian. At least to the best extent possible. Because I’ve worked with all of them and have cared enough to take the time to try to learn what their history was, how they got to where they were, what they endured, and what meant the most to them. And as a result I have as many ethnic as white friends. But color doesn’t really matter much when you talk to someone whose eyes tear up when he talks about the opportunities this country has provided him and his family, or a man who dodged Viet Cong machine gun fire as he ran thru rice paddies trying to escape Laos and get to America. Trust me, you learn to appreciate this nation and its values a whole lot thru listening to the life stories of friends like that.
And folks our values are being degraded by the day. I am particularly distressed by the way the recent targeting and ambushing of our nation’s law enforcement officers has been handled by our nation’s leadership, primarily President Obama, if for no other reason than the buck stops at the top. These peacekeepers are the only thing that stands between us and anarchy and, with all due respect to the Black Lives Matters movement, any group that endorses or even encourages attacks on police—both black and white—is a threat to the security of all of us and deserves to be not condoned but condemned. Failure to do so is indefensible for the leaders of our nation, and an absolute repudiation of its association with that murderous tenet should be the first step to assigning any credibility to BLM or establishing a dialogue of any sort with its leaders. To do otherwise, as has been the case with White House visits and the blanket assignation of “blame” to all cops for the past transgressions of a relatively few rogue officers, will only prove more divisive. And at some not too distant point, I fear, risk becoming even more inflammatory at a time when reconciliation has never been more needed.
The bottom line here is simple: If you advocate murder, especially of innocents, then you are no longer an activist seeking change, you have become a terrorist. And should be treated as such.
Look, there’s enough blame to go around, folks; I’m not pointing the finger at any one entity or individual alone. Personally, I voted for Obama twice, and was proud to play a part in electing the first black American president. But I couldn’t care less if you are black, white, yellow, gay, straight, trans, bi, skinny, fat, rich or poor, respect me and I’ll respect me. Take the time to talk to me and I’ll bet we end up friends. ISIS, Ku Klux Klan, or Timothy McVeigh are proof enough: evil has no color.
ALL lives matter. Yours and mine, his and hers and theirs. And none more importantly than those of the young folks we are trying to raise, the kids who know only the prejudices that we adults teach them. It’s got to stop sometime, somewhere, people. Make it now, and make it with you.
But for ANY life to matter, EVERY life has to matter. United we stand or divided we will surely fall.
We’ve made progress in leaps and bounds with regard to every aspect of society, including race, and the past 48 years have brought remarkable changes since that long hot, tense summer of 1968. I pray we’ve learned from our past, and are not condemning ourselves to repeating it.