The bullets that killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the fatal chokehold suffered by Eric Garner in New York City have led to numerous protests against police brutality and far too much ugly and racially fueled invective around our nation.
But these and other killings of unarmed black civilians by white police officers have done something else.
They have created an urgency for Americans of good will to improve race relations in this country.
We must seize these opportunities, in Kansas City and across the nation.
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One significant long-term benefit would be healthier relations and increased respect between black communities and the still mostly white-dominated police forces that are supposed to serve them, including in Kansas City.
“We are at a moment when there is a possibility that things can be different,” Clarence Lang Jr., an associate professor of African and African-American Studies at the University of Kansas, said last week.
Lang, who is black, made his remarks at the Urban League of Greater Kansas City’s annual luncheon at Starlight Theatre. The event, held in front of an impressively diverse crowd, also featured appearances by Darryl Forté, the first black police chief in Kansas City, and Benjamin Crump, a black civil rights attorney who represents the parents of Michael Brown.
All three men talked candidly about the challenges of effecting positive change after the killings of Brown, Garner, 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland and too many others who have died in the midst of encounters with police.
Crump pointed out that the luncheon came at an extraordinary time when Americans are talking about racial issues, even though those discussions often are polarized.
“These conversations are necessary,” Crump said, because they create the possibility of achieving better understanding between people of all races.
Forté emphasized his worthy goals of hiring more black officers, increasing diversity among police leadership ranks and improving community relations. That should lead to increased cooperation in solving crimes in mostly black neighborhoods.
The chief also forthrightly said that this was a great time for people to air their grievances. . He offered this advice to protesters in Kansas City: “Keep marching, keep saying some things.... I encourage people to march.”
As it turned out, Forté, Crump and Lang spoke on the same day that civil rights marchers walking from Ferguson to Jefferson City reportedly encountered a Confederate flag and some racial slurs in the small town of Rosebud, Mo.
Yet keep this in mind: The marchers received more positive than negative responses along the way. A sign greeting them in Linn, Mo., echoed the mantra seen elsewhere: “Black Lives Matter.”
Crump addressed that oft-repeated line at the Urban League luncheon, held just days after grand juries declined to indict the officers responsible for the deaths of Brown and Garner.
The civil rights attorney said the justice system remains important in the black community.
“Black people want to believe in the system so much,” he said. That’s why it’s so disturbing when the scales seem tipped against them in police shootings.
In their remarks, Crump and Forté indicated that police can help bolster race relations through better training and treating people with respect.
Yes, that would be a good start. But, as recent events show, many more conversations and changes in the justice system are required to set America on a more positive path.