OPINION COLUMNS

Feeling black and blue matters

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, July 13, 2016
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The words of a 4-year-old stung my mind and my heart last Wednesday night as I lay awake deep into Thursday morning.

“It’s OK. I’m right here with you.”

The child spoke those words to calm her mother, who was breaking down as the reality of what had just happened began to sink in.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

Her boyfriend, a black man, had been shot during a traffic stop by a police officer near Saint Paul, Minn. While we don’t know all the facts, the woman filmed the moments after the shooting and claimed he was simply reaching for his license and registration as instructed by the officer, who apparently believed he was reaching for a gun.

Just 24 hours later, I was once again trying to process a tragic shooting during a time I should have been sleeping. This time, it was the sounds of gunfire echoing among the buildings of downtown Dallas, the sounds of people screaming as they ran for cover and the images of police officers comforting each other that kept me awake.

We later learned that a black man with military training had targeted white officers because of the high-profile cases where white officers had killed black citizens.

Black.

Blue.

The colors of bruises.

For many of us locally, the death of the five police officers hit a nerve. We saw the tear-stained faces of the officers’ co-workers, the request for prayers for family members and the call for an end to violence against those who protect and serve.

We need to feel that pain, to grieve, to show our support for law enforcement and to seek a way to end the violence.

But we also need to realize that the pain so many of us (particularly white Americans) felt with the Dallas shooting is the same pain many black citizens feel every time they see a video of an officer shooting someone who looks like them, often for questionable reasons.

It’s not enough simply to feel our own bruises. We must also acknowledge and feel the pain taking its toll on others outside our community as well if we ever expect to move forward.

We can do two things: harden our positions along with our hearts and create a greater “us vs. them”-style divide, or we can soften our hearts and seek understanding and real change that leads to progress.

As the crime beat reporter for the better part of 16 years in Wise County, I’ve had the opportunity to interview people on all sides of the police shooting issue. I’ve visited with the friends and family of officers killed in the line of duty, talked to an officer who had to make the decision to shoot and ultimately kill another person, seen the absolute anguish in the face of another officer who had pulled the trigger with fatal consequences and listened to the family of a man killed by a person in the law enforcement field for what they felt were unjust reasons.

They all have more in common than we might think: the pain, the sense of loss and the question of ‘why?’ among others.

They all have bruises.

If we don’t allow ourselves to feel that pain, that empathy for people who are “different” than us or who we perceive as part of a group that has harmed us, we let fear and hate infect us and numb our hearts to the point where a black man in Dallas feels justified in killing five officers, an ISIS-wannabe in Orlando kills 49 members of the LBGT community and a white man in Charleston kills nine members of a black church in their house of worship.

In all three instances, we’ve heard, “When will it end?”

It won’t end as long as we tolerate the words and actions of our elected leaders who seek to divide us further – whether it is our Republican Lt. Governor who assigned blame for the shooting to the Black Lives Matter protesters and called them “hypocrites” for expecting police to protect them while they ran, or the Democratic Mayor of Baton Rouge who has seemed to remain silent and hidden while protests and clashes with police roil that city after police shot and killed a black man last week.

As Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said during the chaos Thursday night into Friday morning: “Words matter. Leadership matters, at this time.”

Words do matter.

Leadership does matter.

Black lives do matter.

Blue lives do matter.

Life matters.

Death matters.

The words of a 4-year-old matter.

It’s time to feel, and heal, each other’s bruises.

Brian Knox is Special Projects Manager for the Messenger.

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