Is there hope for improved race relations?

The events of the last couple of weeks have been horrific and disturbing for all Americans. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, followed by the deaths of five Dallas police officers, have been a blow to the entire country.

As usual in the face of such shocking events most Americans have come together. Police officers and Black Lives Matter protesters have stood arm in arm. Efforts have been made to understand the other and walk in their shoes. Acknowledgement of mistakes and the use of inflammatory rhetoric have been admitted by voices on both sides of the divide. As Joe Klein says, politicians and talk show hosts who routinely fan the flames of dissension have been largely silent.

So far so good, but what happens now? Any good that may be accomplished is so fragile. It only takes a few individuals a moment or two to tear down any good will that may have been built up. How difficult it is to maintain a balanced perspective when incidents of this nature continue to occur.

What will it take to build lasting progress? What have we seen that suggests we may be heading in the right direction? I believe the most hopeful sign is a generational one. Deep seated racial mistrust and even hatred is far less prevalent among the young. Whether the issue be gay rights or racial understanding the younger generation has by and large moved on from their parents and grandparents and are embracing each other and a more liberal social agenda. Herein lies our hope for the future.

On a more practical level, we are seeing some changes in some police departments across the country. Ironically, Dallas has been mentioned as one of the more enlightened police departments. There is an understanding I believe, that in order to police any community you must understand the people in that community and work to develop trust. Although video of police incidents have brought mixed results, the requirement for police officers to wear body cameras should have a positive impact on policing over the long haul.

The videos have also unquestionably focused the public’s attention on what young black men face in America every day in encounters with the police. At the same time it is abundantly clear what the dangers are for police officers every time they begin their daily shift. How one balances fear for their own safety with the necessity of treating all members of the community with fairness and respect are problems that must be addressed.

These are not issues that can be resolved easily or quickly. There will certainly be the temptation in the weeks and months ahead to return to our individual corners and adopt business, procedures, and attitudes as usual. As partisan rhetoric rises and Election Day nears it will not be easy to avoid giving in to fear and anger.

Yet perhaps the very horrific nature of what we have seen on both sides will demand a response. Hopefully, efforts will be institutionalized and ongoing for community policing, de-escalation training among police and across police departments, and dialogue within communities. Continued efforts must be made to find ways to keep all members of the community safe including police officers who are charged with that responsibility. It is a task that can achieve success only with all members of the community working together.


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