By now most Americans know the name of Dallas Police Chief David Brown, and quite a few wouldn’t mind seeing him play a larger national role. I hear Republicans are looking for a substitute nominee.
Brown is admired not only as a defender of law and order but also as a blunt spokesman for a nation reeling from violence. He minces no words when he says, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country” or, addressing protesters around the country, “We’re hiring.”
“Get off that protest line and put an application in, and we’ll put you in your neighborhood and we will help you resolve some of the problems you’re protesting about.”
Such tough talk is welcome from a man who has his own share of suffering. That includes the death of his son, who went on a shooting rampage and killed two people, one a police officer, before being killed in a firefight with police. Whatever forces compelled those acts will no doubt become part of a larger story in time.
For now, Brown has focused his energies on comforting the families of the dead and articulating our anxieties amid the chaos and killing.
His has been the calming voice the country needed, made all the more powerful by virtue of his personal experience and the heartfelt sorrow he shares with so many. And, let’s be honest my fellow white folks, because he’s black.
Another black Dallas voice has added texture and depth to the debate now roiling wherever people gather. Brian Williams, the surgeon who futilely tried to save some of the wounded officers’ lives, became emotional as he expressed his own grief, not only for the dead but also the violence.
“I don’t understand why people think it’s OK to kill police officers,” he said in a CNN interview. “I don’t understand why black men die in custody and they’re forgotten the next day. I don’t know why this has to be us against them. … Something has to be done.”
Most people don’t understand either. But, as Williams also said, we get the anger and frustration. It is not without reason that many black people distrust the police. In Ferguson, Mo., where events led to the Black Lives Matter movement, Department of Justice investigators found department-wide racism.
It is not without reason that black people have little faith in a criminal justice system that imprisons them at six times the rate of whites, according to a Pew Research Center study. Or that awards blacks nearly 20 percent longer sentences than whites for similar crimes, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Personal experience and observation also play a role. Even Williams, whose demeanor is as nonthreatening as any central-casting physician, acknowledged his own “fear and mild inherent distrust in law enforcement, that goes back to my own personal experiences that I’ve had in my own personal life.”
This isn’t to indict all police officers or even many, but there are “those.” Writing for Vox, former black cop Redditt Hudson posited that 15 percent of police will always do the right thing; 15 percent will abuse their authority at any opportunity; and the remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they’re with.
This is why voices such as Brown’s and Williams’ are so vital, even as I recognize the racial stereotyping implicit in this observation. But the larger point is that while protesters can be marginalized as rabble-rousers, the voices of a respected doctor and a police chief can’t be.
Nor can one ignore (black) tenured Harvard economist Roland Fryer, who on Monday released research findings that police officers don’t, in fact, use deadly force more often against blacks than whites. Indeed, in Houston, one of the cities studied, police were less likely to shoot when the suspect was black. But Fryer also found that black suspects more often than whites are subjected to nonlethal force, such as being shoved against a wall.
What’s clear as facts are added to narratives enhanced by video and live-streaming is that few things can be reduced to black and white. It also seems we have reached a tipping point in what any society can tolerate when it comes to injustice.
Finally, the nation’s long-overdue conversation about race and racism is on the front burner. Keeping it there is the least we can do for those whose blood was shed to make it so.