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We Don't Have to be a Divided Nation

I see headlines proclaiming that we are a nation divided by race—this following the deaths of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota and five police officers in Dallas. Prior to the Dallas killings, which wounded twelve police officers and two civilians in total, I heard the proclamations of racial division much less. The issue was police bias and brutality toward Black Americans. The estimation of its ubiquity and need to correct it was shared by both races, albeit not evenly. Protests, unless they were held in an overwhelmingly Black community, most often included people of both White and Black races as well as Asians and Hispanics. The Dallas protest itself was organized and led by a White Baptist Minister.

An angry Black man, whose anger was fueled by online rhetoric of groups with well-known racial prejudices and advocacy of violence, took it upon himself to kill White policemen and suddenly the conversation is about an unbridgeable gap between Whites and Blacks in America.

I don’t see it. The day after the Dallas horror, I saw the same kind of protests, often led by Black Lives Matter groups, attended by the same mix of Whites, Blacks, Asians and Hispanics.

Sure, there have been angry Blacks who have congratulated the sniper for killing policemen in Dallas. And there have been angry Whites who have denounced Black protesters or even President Obama. One former congressman and current talk-show host tweeted “Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”

Neither the horrific actions of a tiny number of people nor the prejudiced, playing-to-the-worst-traits tweets of a few sick media or political personalities, represent the feelings of most of America.

I am horrified by the killings of police in Dallas. I am horrified and angry at the repeated killings of Black men and women by police in many areas of this country. I don’t see this as a White against Black issue. It is an issue of anti-Black fear and bias in many police officers and an issue of race hatred in an unbalanced man with access to guns. Both issues can be solved and their solution involves teaching and developing understanding, not using violence.

But things can worsen. We already have a country that is divided in terms of political philosophy and in terms of which candidate to support for the presidency. The rhetoric in politics is outrageous and incendiary. The more there are headlines such as “Race Wars Begin” or politicians and media personalities that blame a Black president for “inciting” violence against the police, the more likely we are to emerge with a divided nation. It’s frankly not likely it will be Black against White, as there are just too many of each race that don’t see that as the issue. But there are people on the fringes, as was the Dallas shooter, or Dylann Roof, the White man who killed 9 churchgoers in Charleston, who can be persuaded to see it that way. And guns are available to anyone who wants one.

The terrorist threat in the U.S. is not Muslim against non-Muslims, but extremist, often troubled, people who are persuaded by other extremists to express their frustration and anger by violence. Extremist rhetoric, hateful rhetoric, on either side of these issues of race or religion, has the power to capture the minds of the few who really can pose a threat to the many.

We need to work on improving police and community relations and examining the mindset of some of our police officers, who, with a gun on their hip and the law on their side, have enormous power, so that we can put an end to the unnecessary and tragic killing of Black people by cops. We also need to develop a public discourse that counters the divisive and often violence-inciting rhetoric of voices on both sides of race issues. What we need least of all is to say things that will drive people into opposing camps, because violation of citizens rights and the perpetration of acts of mass murder are not issues on which people need to argue with each other about their being right or wrong. They are wrong, and as a united country, we can address and fix them. As a divided country, we cannot.

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