Every time something bad happens we wait anxiously for the details, worried that the perpetrator or the victim might be 'one of us,' whomever we happen to be. We wait to find out if we'll feel the heat of hate, or want to take to the streets in outrage. Was the bad guy one of the usual suspects, was the victim among those usually oppressed? Either way, the news burns us right down to our souls every time it happens. And every time, the blame game begins immediately even before anyone knows anything.
So, in July, when five cops were shot dead in Dallas and then three in Baton Rouge, the heart of every righteous American sank. At the age of 70, the marker of my generation is 'The Day Kennedy Was Shot.' To this day, all these years later, people my age still ask each other, "what were you doing the day Kennedy was shot." We remember every detail very clearly. So, when five cops were killed, my first thought was, "Oh no, not Dallas, Again!" And this happened just two blocks from the former Texas Book Depository from which Oswald shot our beloved President. Does it mean anything? Probably not, not a damn thing. The killer was too young to have had any conscious connection to the assassination that caused thousands and thousands of Americans, Black and White, to line the train tracks in tears across the nation as his funeral train rolled through.
That was a different time back then. There are few tears today, just mostly rage, on both sides. When the news broke that cops were killed, there was immediate knee-jerk reverence for the blue lives lost. That is right and proper except when you contrast that with the lack of reverence for the black lives lost. Quite the contrary, the bigots didn't waste a moment before blaming Black Americans for valuing their lives. For years now, there has been an endless series of senseless murders of of Black men and children by policemen who became frightened for their lives because of their skin color. When the cops were shot, there was a rush to revere those church going righteous family men and heroes as pillars of their community. This was right and proper because each had a heart as good as gold. But, when all those Black Americans were killed by cops, one after another, there was a repeated rush to report their social sins, even those of the dead children. A teenager had just stolen a box of crackers or something and was running away, unarmed. An overweight middle aged black man was illegally selling single cigarettes on a street corner, trying to eek out a meager living of pennies. A little boy made the 'mistake' of playing with a toy gun, alone in a park at dusk. Countless black Americans across the country were simply reaching for their wallets when they were killed. Each time some past sin, however minor, was cited in the news as if to suggest, "Well there you go, he wasn't an alter boy, so his life didn't matter!" The real sin here is the false-righteousness of right wing bigots fanning the flames of hate and distrust.
The far right insists that every American has the right to carry a gun, anywhere and everywhere; as long as they're white, apparently. On the other hand, if a Black man has a gun and is registered and licensed, well, "GUN! He's got a GUN!" At that point, "fear for your life" kicks in, and shooting him dead with as many bullets as possible is the automatic reaction. Even Black undercover cops have been shot because, well, all the other cops saw was 'a Black Man With a Gun!' The two most recent Black men shot dead in early July had perfectly legal guns for personal protection in keeping with what they were told they had a right to do as Americans. One had been wrestled to the ground face down with his arms twisted behind his back by several cops, for the sin of selling CDs outside; then one saw the gun on his hip, shouted "He's got a GUN!" And shot him dead as he lay face down. The other was pulled over for a broken tail light or something; he politely said he's got a gun and a license, and began reaching for his wallet. Apparently terrified at the sight of a car full of Blacks (the driver, a woman, and her 4 year old daughter), the officer shot the man dead through the car window. Then the media 'dutifully' listed the deceased's past sins of traffic violations, AS IF those somehow mitigated the sin of killing him. The sad truth is that a lot of these homicidal cops don't even think of themselves as prejudiced. A lot of them don't consciously think of Black Americans as their enemy. But, many live in segregated suburbs where they do not ever encounter Black neighbors living just as they do with wives and children in houses just like theirs with plumbing problems and crappy lawns. To them these folks smell different; and it scares the shit out of these poor hapless cops caught in the nightmare of just having shot dead someone's daddy. Cops do seem to suffer from immensely arrogant egos; it doesn't take much to offend their sense of superiority. Eric Garner knew he had Asthma; all he did was raise his hands and plead, "Don't touch me!" You don't tell cops 'what to do' or 'not to do.' So, they killed him because that was what he did. Or were four or five big burly cops afraid of an unarmed overweight middle aged man with his hands in the air? Mind you, I'm not being cynical, they are.
Getting suspended at full pay for a year and a half is not exactly a punishment for murder. No one wants to endure being tried for murder and getting their name dragged through the mud, but its nearly a sure thing that they get off no matter what videos show. Being "afraid for their life" is the ultimate excuse, even if mistaken. It doesn't matter. You can shoot dead a little boy with a toy gun and say you were afraid for your life. You can say his color didn't matter at all, even if it did.
So how the hell do we get people to stop being afraid of each other? Sensitivity training, which has been around for generations, can only go so far, good as it is. I've seen it taught and received both sincerely and cynically. People stop being afraid of each other when they sit down to dinner with each other. Once they're eating the same food, they don't smell different from each other anymore, simple as that. People also stop being afraid of each other when they're cowering together in a foxhole scared shitless of enemy mortar fire. That started happening to Americans during the hell of the Korean War in the early 1950s. In 1948 President Harry S. Truman racially integrated our armed forces by Executive Order. It took until the early 50s for our service members to start serving together in mortal combat. Then they showed each other crumpled black and white photographs of each others families. They talked about their deep wish to survive the war and get back home to their mom's meatloaf and mashed potatoes bathed in gravy.
There is nothing more American than that. "What? Your mom makes meatloaf too?" "What the hell do you think we eat!" Those young men didn't necessarily know what their moms and grandmothers put in their meatloaf to give it that intoxicating aroma (sage, actually), but it was one of their fondest memories that they shared. It was only after that, twenty years later, that they elected members of Congress who were willing to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that began the road to equality. It was only after straight and gay American service members started serving together in the Middle East in the 1990s, sharing the same fears, the same courage, the same kinds of family photos and the same meatloaf dreams, that they began to trust each other and not be afraid of each other and not hate each other.
So called community meetings are better than nothing, but they are often sterile and formalized. Here's a radical idea: invite each other to dinner at home. Invite each other's entire families, including children. Scary? Do it through organized community groups. But, the end result should be individual families eating together in each other's homes. The meal should be meatloaf for its mutual understanding. There, two dads can silently arch an eyebrow at each other in understanding about petulant teenagers. But, after dinner, when two teenage boys go off together to play a video game, suddenly everyone realizes that the distrust has disappeared! Its not magic, its not new. Its been happening ever since caveman clans hunting dinosaurs began bumping into each other on the Tundra. Supposedly, it happened when Native Americans invited the Pilgrims to Thanksgiving dinner at Plymouth Rock.
I'm not trying to pretend that I'm wise enough to have the answer to fear and loathing, as above. But, I was taught in the military that if you want to talk about a problem, come with a 'solution.' Also, my mother taught me the same thing when I was 5.
So this time the bad guy cop killers in Dallas and Baton Rouge are vets. The 'authorities' are trying to be politically correct and have only said, "we are exploring possible motivations." Its pretty obvious that the motivation was rage over police killings and a lifetime of discrimination. Before someone has a hissy fit imagining that I'm talking about equivalence; I'm not. The cop killings are inexcusable; but so are the killings of minority Americans. One does not justify the other. I'm only saying that the knee jerk reverence on the one hand, and the total lack of it on the other, makes me nauseous.
And, as I started out saying, now I'm worried that the knee-jerk bigots will say, "AHA, see, veterans are dangerous!" Next we'll here from a certain nominee that all black vets should be locked up or deported. He hasn't said it yet, but its the right wing way; they spent eight years blatantly discriminating against America's first minority President, and now they want to replace whim with a Hatemonger-in-Chief.
So, why should we be concerned since those being systematically killed aren't gay or even vets? Because it IS our concern, Gay, Black, not 'our kind,' not human; its the same damn thing! Our lives matter. Let us not forget that the police attack on Black and Hispanic Trannies at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 started the entire movement for our rights.
On the same day as the Dallas police shootings, right wing members of Congress decided that they could get away with not voting on legislation that would slow down selling assault weapons to known people on no-fly watch lists. WHAT THE.....! Whose side are they on anyway? The answer is simple. They are on the side of those who think our lives don't matter. Our gay lives, our black lives, our free American lives, our human lives. Our lives just don't matter to those fine folks who think their shit smells better. Or, are they just somehow afraid for their lives?
Afraid for their lives. You know what, a little courage wouldn't hurt. We all had that when we volunteered to serve our nation. Courage. We were taught to have the courage to serve together and respect each other as equals in our armed forces; Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Male, Female, Gay, Straight, and Transgender! Today, a bigot in the barracks is the one who does not deserve to wear our uniform, not in our military, not on our streets.