The Police Versus…Everyone

Young policewoman and young policeman in office, portrait

It’s hard to pinpoint where it started. Maybe it was when a kid coming home with Skittles and an Arizona Ice Tea turned into a deadly altercation with a neighborhood watchman. Possibly it was when a taxi driver was beaten by four officers and asked, “Can’t we all just get along”. Or, was it when two Mississippians were acquitted of brutally murdering a teenage boy for “flirting” with a White woman and his open casket funeral spurred a civil rights movement?

Or even now, in 2016 where a day after a video showed white officers pinning down and shooting a black man outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, federal authorities are investigating the case.

Now, Alton Sterling, 37, a father, a husband, a brother, our brother…is dead.

The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is leading an investigation into what happened. And the president of the NAACP’s local branch is calling for the city’s police chief and mayor to resign, but what is OUR response as a community?

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The historical record of the contentious relationship between the American justice system and African American men is well documented in its breadth and complexity, but the emotional response it evokes today has received less thoughtful exploration despite the emotional intensity that constantly has been on display during news coverage these past two years.

The strongest emotional responses from both the African American community and the police community have often highlighted the violence of the “other side,” and while valid, have often missed the mark on one of the most important ingredients for implementing policies that sustain peace: empathy.

Empathy reflects the ability to share the feelings of others and see the world from their perspective. Violence begets violence, a phrase frequently used by Dr. King,