In a polarized world where racism, cops and guns are the ideal mix for volatility, it’s stunning that there’s so much agreement from the country’s top leaders on one issue and that, despite the unity, it’s still so hard to get something done.
For years, it seems that all sides in the controversial issue framed by Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter were far apart on whether a problem even existed. And black-rights and police activists seemed further apart on how the problem could be addressed, assuming it was even acknowledged at all.
As tragic as the last week has been with new police shootings of black Americans and the horrific sniper shootings killing five Dallas officers and wounding more, the horror may have opened a door we never knew existed.
Hours after the Dallas police were attacked by sniper fire while protecting Black Lives Matter protesters, President Barack Obama, in Europe at the time, condemned the shootings and reiterated something he’s said numerous times before.
You can simultaneously acknowledge and condemn the fact that some police treat black Americans wrongly, to the point of killing them, and that not all police are like that, and the job of law enforcers is increasingly difficult and unappreciated. The remarks have become so common, that it has become a tragedy in itself, reflecting the frequency of these horrific incidents.
But what set the comments apart this time is how leaders here in Colorado and across the country began to say the same or similar things.
El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, a staunch, conservative Republican running against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet for a seat in the U.S. Senate, issued a thoughtful and provocative essay the day after the Dallas shootings. Glenn eloquently described how blacks are routinely humiliated by overt and sometimes subtle or unintentional racism, including by police. And he defended how nearly impossible the job of police has become in a world made increasingly dangerous by a growing list of conflicting issues.
He sounded almost exactly like Obama, a man Glenn has vociferously criticized for just about everything up to this point.
The next day, former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a man who’s long been at odds with Obama, also acknowledged that whites do not know the strife that racism inflicts on blacks, and that some police are certainly part of the problem. And at the same time, he echoed the sentiments of many others, that the job of police is exceedingly difficult and all of these issues must be addressed.
Sure, social media is still rife with polarized memes and messages either painting all blacks with a single brush as lawless, disrespectful hoodlums that bring on their own violent deaths. Or they make police out to be jackbooted paramilitary thugs in blue, too quick to act out on racial hatred and then cover their tracks as a pack.
But outside of that nonsense is a growing picture of police being openly supportive of efforts to ensure the horrific killing of blacks by some rogue officers is stopped. And increasingly, blacks are going out of their way to tell police they know how difficult their job is, and how their work is appreciated.
Here in Aurora, Police Chief Nick Metz, who is black, has been publicly insisting that we all must have productive conversations now, not later. He’s right.
This is a moment America must seize. High-level officials, police rank-and-file and just everyday people can see that blacks truly have been and are mistreated by some police and others. At the same time, our expectations of police are unreasonable and unrealistic, and those willing to do that job more often than not are exceptional people, not thugs.
With this much common ground, it seems that consensus on a local level, a state level and even a national level is actually within reach.
If these leaders are willing to set aside their own partisan temptations long enough to have meaningful, overdue conversations, it’s likely we can seek ways to solve both of these very real and tragic problems that now border on becoming overwhelming.