Listen, don’t shout

Published 7:08 am Friday, July 15, 2016

In the wake of the Dallas police shootings and in the wake of numerous allegations of police abuse, it is hard to avoid the bitter back-and-forth on social media between those who, often loudly, support the police and those who, equally loudly, support the Black Lives Matter movement.

It seems to me, as I sit on the sidelines, those two sides are not so different.

I get that being a police officer means long hours, little pay and a lot of stress. But even so, I don’t know what it means to regularly deal with people who are often at the worst, at their loudest, most violent and sometimes most intoxicated. I don’t know it means dealing with the mentally ill and the violent. And I don’t know what it’s like, seeing regularly things that most of us would never, ever want to see.

But I know that no reasonable person would ever want to live in a society absent a police force. Even so, I am not so naïve as to believe our criminal justice system is wholly immune to the influence of money, power and, yes, skin tone. When the Guardian newspaper reports that, in 2015, American police killed young black men at a rate five times higher than white men of the same age, something must be wrong.

When I watch U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican and one of two African-American senators, stand up in the Senate on Wednesday and tell his colleagues that he was pulled over a whopping seven times in a single year, something must be wrong.

“Was I speeding sometimes? Sure. But the vast majority of the time I was pulled over for driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or something else just as trivial,” he said.

I can’t know how frustrating that must be. Because honestly? I don’t think I’ve been pulled over seven times in my life. And, as I say, I don’t know the frustration of a traffic officer who pulls over someone who is upset, in a hurry and who’s maybe been pulled over a few too many times before and decides he’s had enough.

I am reminded of the second sentence in The Great Gatsby, where Nick recalls some advice from his father.

“’Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone … just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”

Most of us cannot know the frustrations of police or of certain targeted communities firsthand. Many of us have advantages that preclude such knowledge.

But advantages shouldn’t make us deaf to the voices of either side and they shouldn’t prevent us from offering our sympathy, our time and our support. If we’re to exist in communities, then we must seek to work with the police who protect us and ensure vulnerable populations are not mistreated.

Brushing aside criticism by saying things like “all lives matter” is no more useful than saying “we’ve all got problems.” It might be true that we all have our problems and that all lives matter, but unless we understand how each life matters in relation to our own, then what we’re saying is we don’t care about certain lives.

And that’s not acceptable.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor for The Daily News. You can call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 301, or email