Eye of the be­holder

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Kath­leen Parker

— By now most Amer­i­cans know the name of Dal­las Po­lice Chief David Brown — and quite a few wouldn’t mind see­ing him play a larger na­tional role. I hear Repub­li­cans are look­ing for a sub­sti­tute nom­i­nee.

Brown is ad­mired not only as a de­fender of law and or­der but also as a blunt spokesman for a na­tion reel­ing from vi­o­lence. He minces no words when he says, “We’re ask­ing cops to do too much in this coun­try” or, ad­dress­ing pro­test­ers around the coun­try, “We’re hir­ing.”

“Get off that protest line and put an ap­pli­ca­tion in, and we’ll put you in your neigh­bor­hood and we will help you re­solve some of the prob­lems you’re protest­ing about.”

Such tough talk is wel­come from a man who has his own share of suf­fer­ing, in­clud­ing the death of his son, who went on a shoot­ing ram­page, killing two peo­ple in­clud­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer, be­fore be­ing killed in a fire­fight with po­lice. What­ever forces com­pelled those acts will no doubt be­come part of a larger story in time.

For now, Brown has fo­cused his en­er­gies on com­fort­ing the fam­i­lies of the dead and ar­tic­u­lat­ing our anx­i­eties amid the chaos and killing.

His has been the calm­ing voice the coun­try needed, made all the more pow­er­ful by virtue of his per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence and the heart­felt sor­row he shares with so many. And, let’s be hon­est, my fel­low white folks, be­cause he’s black. And an­other black Dal­las voice has added tex­ture and depth to the de­bate now roil­ing wher­ever peo­ple gather. Dr. Brian Wil­liams, the sur­geon who fu­tilely tried to save some of the wounded of­fi­cers’ lives, be­came emo­tional as he ex­pressed his own grief, not only for the dead but also the vi­o­lence.

“I don’t un­der­stand why peo­ple think it’s OK to kill po­lice of­fi­cers,” he said in a CNN in­ter­view. “I don’t un­der­stand why black men die in cus­tody and they’re for­got­ten the next day. I don’t know why this has to be us against them. ... Some­thing has to be done.”

Most peo­ple don’t un­der­stand ei­ther. But, as Wil­liams also said, we get the anger and frus­tra­tion. It is not with­out rea­son that many blacks dis­trust the po­lice. In Ferguson, Mis­souri, where events led to the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, Depart­ment of Jus­tice in­ves­ti­ga­tors found depart­ment-wide racism.

It is not with­out rea­son that blacks have lit­tle faith in a crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem that im­pris­ons them at six times the rate of whites, ac­cord­ing to a Pew Re­search Cen­ter study. Or that awards blacks nearly 20 per­cent longer sen­tences than whites for sim­i­lar crimes, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 re­port by the U.S. Sen­tenc­ing Com­mis­sion.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence and ob­ser­va­tion also play a role. Even Wil­liams, whose de­meanor is as non­threat­en­ing as any cen­tral-cast­ing physi­cian, ac­knowl­edged his own “fear and mild in­her­ent dis­trust in law en­force­ment, that goes back to my own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences that I’ve had in my own per­sonal life.”

This isn’t to in­dict all po­lice of­fi­cers or even many, but there are “those.” Writ­ing for Vox, for­mer black cop Red­ditt Hud­son posited that 15 per­cent of po­lice will al­ways do the right thing; 15 per­cent will abuse their au­thor­ity at any op­por­tu­nity; the re­main­ing 70 per­cent could go ei­ther way de­pend­ing on whom they’re with.

This is why voices such as Brown’s and Wil­liams’ are so vi­tal, even as I rec­og­nize the racial stereo­typ­ing im­plicit in this ob­ser­va­tion. But the larger point is that while pro­test­ers can be marginal­ized as rab­ble-rousers, the voices of a re­spected doc­tor and a po­lice chief can’t be.

Nor can one ig­nore (black) tenured Har­vard econ­o­mist Roland Fryer, who on Mon­day re­leased re­search find­ings that po­lice of­fi­cers don’t, in fact, use deadly force more of­ten against blacks than whites. In­deed, in Hous­ton, one of the cities stud­ied, po­lice were less likely to shoot when the sus­pect was black. But Fryer also found that black sus­pects more of­ten than whites are sub­jected to non­lethal force, such as be­ing shoved against a wall.

What’s clear as facts are added to nar­ra­tives en­hanced by video and livestream­ing is that few things can be re­duced to black and white. It also seems we have reached a tip­ping point in what any so­ci­ety can tol­er­ate when it comes to in­jus­tice. Fi­nally, the na­tion’s lon­gover­due con­ver­sa­tion about race and racism is on the front burner. Keep­ing it there is the least we can do for those whose blood was shed to make it so.

Kath­leen Parker is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact her at kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com.


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