A single photograph from the mass murder that claimed the lives of 5 Dallas police officers while injuring 7 others is a beautiful display of what it means to claim that "lives matter."
The image, captured in CNN video footage, is one of courage under fire. It's an image of people who, at least for a few seconds, forgot whatever differences they had in order to protect the life of the least politically-minded among any of us: an infant in a stroller.
This moment lost in time, but preserved in a single image, is a faint flicker of hope. It is a light that needs to be seen and it is a hope that desperately needs to be held fast to.
In a summer of rage and hatred fueled by speculation, media saturation, and the continuing animus perpetuated by an "Us vs. Them" mentality that has taken hold of nearly every aspect of American life, whether it be racial, social, economic, political, or religious, this country needs to come back from the brink of self-destruction.
In order to do so, people are going to need to start talking honestly. Americans need to face some really uncomfortable facts about race, about politics, about the media, about policing, and about poverty and crime. We're going to have to face these issues without the emotional, fear-drenched reactions that far too often lead to fingers squeezing triggers and nights of tear gas, burned storefronts, and shattered lives. It means people need to change the way they think, the way they act, and they way they approach the things they take as given, as true, as unchangeable.
I am just a writer. These are simplified ideas, written at the end of a week of personal and professional grief and pain. I don't expect to change the world over night - or even at all - and I certainly don't claim to have all the answers. That said, it's obvious that if something doesn't change, we're all going to burn together.
For the police, it's got to mean changing the relationships between cops and the communities they serve. It means involving civilians - those who are most affected by crime and social conditions - in improving their neighborhoods.It means building rapport. It means not insulating cops from the consequences of bad decisions and it means showing zero tolerance for any officer who betrays the badge.
For those who wear the blue, it means really understanding what Thomas J. Cahill, the Chief of Police in San Francisco from 1958 until 1970, reportedly told every graduating class from the police academy: with a badge and a gun you have half the power of God. You'd better use it wisely, because you do not have the other half. And that said, yes, it means making sure you go home safely every night... and doing your best to see that those on your watch and under your watch do the same, civilian and cop alike.
For civilians, it means not martyring every person shot by an officer in the line of duty, not fanning the flames of animosity with words like "genocide" and "murder" before the smoke has cleared. It means admitting that the demographics of crime are wildly skewed and that the social, cultural, political, and economic variables that feed recidivism and incarceration must be looked at fearlessly and honestly if they are going to change. It means to recognize that people who claim to speak for you don't have your best interests in mind when they're calling for violence or "revolutions." It means not getting sucked into the sickness of rage when you comment on social media, even when others are. It means not calling for the murder of cops at peaceful protests. It means owning your choices, your reactions, your life.
For journalists, it means not feeding the rage these incidents provoke for clicks and headlines. It means understanding that there's always more to a story than a few seconds of video.It means not pouring media attention onto the names of mass shooters. It means acknowledging a responsibility to report the news without catering to the bias of your reporters, your audience, your advertisers, or the reigning political party. It means not giving the voices of hatred and division a megaphone to make things worse. It means knowing what you're talking about when you report on police procedure and use-of-force. It means not getting in the way of investigations. It means, no, you don't get to be an activist. Your duty is not to your politics and not to the people who you privately agree with: it is to the public.
For politicians, it means serving the people you claim to represent and not the corporations and lobbies that have you in their pockets. It means rising above the base, vulgar populism that gets retweets and sells hats. It means trying to conduct yourself with integrity. It's tough, I know. You'll just have to do better.
For someone like myself, whose prior background was criminal justice, private security, and who is and has always been adamantly pro-cop, that means not jumping up to defend the "thin blue line" every time there's an Officer Involved Shooting. It means never forgetting that justice is more important than any of its symbols and that those who guard it must do so with that understanding.
For everyone, it means recognizing that even in the gravest extreme, when a life must be taken to defend life, that that life - like all lives - begins as precious. It begins as a person loved and capable of love, begins as something to defend: just like that baby in a stroller in Dallas, surrounded by courage, safeguarded by love.