John Zaring: We are better than this

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

America. Our Constitution guarantees us all the right to peaceful assembly and protest.

Not the right to riot.

What happened this week in two more American cities – this time, it was Charlotte and Tulsa – sickens me.

The killing of two Americans – two more black men – sickens me. Black lives matter.
The hatred and attacks upon police by marauders who hijacked an otherwise peaceful protest in Charlotte on Wednesday night also sickens me. Blue lives matter too.

There are good people fighting for social justice in America, but the violence that often spirals out of control when people protest is ultimately detrimental to the cause. Anarchy is always unacceptable, and violent acts can never be condoned.

Growing up with several cops in my family, including one cousin who was more like a brother to me, I recognize that police officers have the hardest, most stressful and dangerous job of any American not serving on a battlefield.

They work under a tremendous amount of stress and walk a life-and-death fine line.
Count me as being knee-deep in the “pro-police” camp.

As a white dude, though, I recognize that non-whites are far too often treated with less respect by some cops, and I want our justice system to be fair for all.

When a fatal police shooting happens, the protests – which often come before the facts of the case are known – aren’t usually organized in the traditional sense; they tend to happen relatively spontaneously, initially without much leadership.

It’s been my observation that nearly everyone in Charlotte had peaceful intentions, but as happened in Baltimore, Dallas and many other cities, some bad actors emerged who were intent on disrupting the demonstration and creating mayhem.

A full, fair, and thorough investigation will be conducted in Charlotte, and also in Tulsa, and the results of those investigations must be shared with the public because transparency will help increase confidence in our political and justice systems.

I’m a big proponent of outfitting police officers with body cameras because ultimately – in circumstances like we’ve seen this week when dynamic and frenetic events lead to a tragic death – they will either exonerate the good officers or root out the bad.

This cycle needs to stop, so it is important that government leaders all across our country – not just the elected leaders but every community leader, along with our pastors and ministers – get out in front of this runaway train.

Two years later, we are in pretty much in the same place we were when Ferguson went up in smoke.

Where’s the progress?

In a broader context, we must recognize that policing in communities of color has historically been strained. This rift has been brewing literally since the country was founded on the backs of slaves, and every time there’s a killing by police, it reopens these weeping wounds.

There’s a pervasive perception that thoughtful discourse is missing, so to speed the path to solving this divide, we must focus on changing the relationship between the police and its citizens and in making our system of justice truly colorblind.

There are, of course, policy changes that must be made, and resources need to be directed into distressed communities, not only urban ones but also those found in poor rural areas where there just aren’t enough people to draw attention to their plight.

Maybe with this all happening in the heat of a presidential campaign, in a battleground state, it will spur our leaders to action.

I say “maybe” because while dispassionate, nonpartisan academics widely agree that institutional bias and racism exist, not everyone in our country sees it as a serious issue.

In recent polling, the Pew Research Center found there are some astonishing differences of opinion among Americans. For example, 84 percent of blacks believe they are treated less fairly, while only half of whites agree.

Breaking Pew’s survey down by party, 59 percent of Republicans feel that too much attention is afforded to issues of race, while 49 percent of Democrats feel that not enough attention is paid.

Yet there are two things I hope we can all agree upon: 1) no one wants to see anyone else die, and 2) all of our blood bleeds red.

This week, we saw again what it looks like when things go badly wrong, so let’s all beat back on bigotry in our public discourse, seek justice instead of looting, be voting instead of rioting, actively participate positively in our society all day every day, and push our elected officials to focus on this issue not only when our cities are on fire, but when they are not.

This is a problem that can be solved on a local level, by all of us.

We are better than this, America.

John Zaring’s columns are called too conservative by liberals and too liberal by conservatives — thus his claim to “The Rational Center.” A Democrat and resident of the SCV since 2000, he is a founding member of the Hart District’s WiSH Education Foundation and has served on the district’s Advisory Committee for five years. He lives in Castaic.

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