The summer of 2016 may well be remembered as one of drastic shootings and divisive rhetoric that brought our country to a very low point. The vicious shootings in Dallas, Orlando, San Bernardino, and Charleston, to name only some, may leave us stunned and speechless for a time. It is difficult to find an adequate response. Anger can be too personal to be of any use. Divisive language tears us further apart. Emotions may point us toward vengeance, but the heart knows that justice will come through compassion. Others have said it more clearly and cogently.
Leonard Pitts, a columnist for the Miami Herald, whose writing also appears in the Chicago Tribune, wrote on July 11: “On the night Martin Luther King died, two months almost to the day before he himself would be shot down, Bobby Kennedy faced a grief-stricken, largely African American crowd in Indianapolis and with extemporaneous eloquence prescribed a cure for the sickness he saw. ‘My favorite poet,’ he told them ‘was Aeschylus. And he once wrote: And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States Is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer in our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.’ Those words feel hopelessly idealistic, impossibly innocent and yet, wise, grace-filled and right for the raw pain of this moment. I commend them to all our wounded spirits on this shining morning. …”
On the same day, New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote: “Truth is, I am afraid. Not so much for my own safety … but more for the country I Iove. This is not a level of stress and strain that a civil society can long endure. … Will the people who see both the protests over police killings and the killings of police officers are fundamentally about the value of life rise above those who see political opportunity in this arms race of atrocities. … We must see all unwarranted violence for what it is: a corrosion of culture. I know well that when people speak of love and empathy and honor in the face of violence, it can feel like meeting hard power with soft, like there is inherent weakness in an approach that leans so heavily on things so ephemeral and even clichéd. But that is simply an illusion fostered by those of little faith. Anger and vengeance and violence are exceedingly easy to access and almost effortlessly unleashed. The higher calling – the harder trial – is the belief in the ultimate moral justice and the inevitable victory of righteousness over wrong. … The moment any person comes to accept as justifiable an act of violence upon another – whether physical, spiritual, or otherwise – that person has already lost the moral battle, even if he is currently winning the semantic one. When we all can see clearly that the ultimate goal is harmony and not hate, rectification and not retribution, we have a chance to see our way forward.
At the funeral of the five Dallas police officers on July 12, President Barack Obama spoke of how protestors and police officers are mourning together for the slain Dallas police officers and for two black men killed elsewhere by police. He also said, “We cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protests as troublemakers or paranoid. … You can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism. To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, dismissed perhaps even by your white friends and co-workers and fellow church members, again and again and again? It hurts. Surely, we can see that. All of us.”
President Obama said much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve arise “because we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves. … As a society, we choose to underinvest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs.”
He also said this shooter “won’t be the last person who tries to make us turn on one another. The killer in Orlando wasn’t. Nor was the killer in Charleston. … But as Americans, we can decide that people like this killer will ultimately fail. They will not drive us apart. We can decide to come together and make our country reflect the good inside us, the hopes and simple dreams we share.”