Like all of us, I watched the social media streams and the news reports last Wednesday on two racially charged shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota. Last Thursday, I went to sleep contemplating yet another summer of violence in our country. Last Friday morning, I awoke to read the news of the fatal attacks in Dallas at what had started out as a peaceful protest of the shootings. This, of course, all on the heels of the tragedy in Orlando some 25 days earlier.

As I thought about all of these events, I came to the conclusion that there are many topics that we don’t talk about. We can perhaps discuss these in the privacy of our homes, with family and friends, even as a whisper in a public place when we think no one is listening.

It’s important that these issues be at least identified here, which, perhaps, can engender a frank, respectful and enduring conversation about contradictions, differences, social media and the stubbornly unreasonable need to pick a side.

Race, exclusion and poverty: Racial tensions in the U.S. have ebbed and flowed since the end of the Civil War. As Americans, we have never addressed our relationship to slavery and its lingering impacts.

Likewise, the rapacious nature of capitalism has forgotten the misery of those left behind by decades of underemployment, dangerous working conditions and long-term unemployment. In many places in the United States, poverty rates for millions of Americans, many of them single women and their children, rival those in Third World countries.

We also don’t talk about the lack of opportunity as a precursor to violence. We see them as two separate, unconnected issues.


Social media: I don’t talk about the fact social media has become a vehicle reporting the events instantaneously. Social media is a snapshot of events sometimes directly correlated, but often distorted. These videos slow down interactions, which may have festered for hours, even decades, and distill them into the ugly conclusions that can be replayed again and again.

Yet the long view often acquits those who were initially castigated. We react to that which is popular in the moment but forget about those videos within 12 months.

Policing: The police use the tools of their training to fight crime. However, the police have, over the past 30 years, been thrust into the role of agent of social control, a responsibility that extends well beyond law enforcement.

They have been forced into roles of substance abuse counselors, mental health providers and even enforcers of social order outside of criminal statutes. Many of the calls that police answer are not criminal in nature. They relate to civil problems, best handled by social service agencies.

When those agencies are not available, the police are the default counselors to those who overdose, have a mental health crisis or are struggling with the ravages of poverty. We don’t talk about this question: What other profession in the United States is expected to keep us safe and fill in the social service safety net gap as well?

Picking a side: We don’t talk about the fact we are now socially forced to pick a side. If someone decides to be on the side of religious tolerance, then the wrong-headed logic is they must be Muslim and supportive of terrorism. Conversely, if someone supports the police, then they must be supportive of the egregious offenses of rogue officers.

This picking a side discounts the fact that there are many facets to any social condition and that nothing in the social condition can be boiled down to just two sides. We have a duty to debate both sides of any issue, and then question ourselves on the conclusions. We don’t talk about this. We are forced to pick a side and then support that side through activism or apathy.

I would encourage all of us to talk about these things openly and candidly, because I believe they represent the underlying current conditions that influence much of the death, violence and sorrow in the past month. Talking openly may not lead to a solution. However, my hope is, perhaps altruistically, that through conversation, we may see ourselves in a different context.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.