BY JESSE JACKSON
July 12, 2016
“It is more dangerous to be black in America. You’re substantially
more likely to be in a situation where police don’t respect you.”
The speaker was not Barack Obama; it was former Republican House
Speaker Newt Gingrich. Even a conservative firebrand like Gingrich was
shaken by videos showing black men killed by police in Baton Rouge and
suburban St. Paul.
Then the lone assassin in Dallas shot and killed five police officers
and wounded seven more. Grief, fear and anger spread.
The challenge now — for every concerned American — is how we react
to the injustice and the violence. We know that our justice system
suffers from massive and systematic racism. It is more dangerous to
drive while black. African Americans are more likely to be stopped, more
likely to be searched, more likely to be arrested if stopped, more
likely to be charged if arrested, and more likely to be jailed if
convicted. The budget of many small towns is based upon the fines,
penalties and fees largely paid for by African-American offenders.
Police, state’s attorneys and judges tend to have a shared perspective,
an organizational kinship.
How do we respond? After the shootings of Philando Castile in
Minneapolis and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. — as after Ferguson,
Mo. and Baltimore and more — nonviolent demonstrations spread across
the country. Whites joined with blacks and Latinos and Asian-Americans
to call for an end to the killings, for justice, for the recognition
that Black Lives Matter. These are the tactics taught by Jesus, Gandhi
and Dr. Martin Luther King, not because they were scared of violence but
because they were wise about change. Nonviolence condemns the sin, but
not the sinner. It indicts the injustice by forcing recognition of our
shared humanity. It summons the better angels of our character, not the
bitter angers of our fears.
We must choose reconciliation over retaliation and revenge. This is a
teachable moment if we are finally willing to learn that too many guns,
too much injustice and growing disparities is a lethal cocktail.
It is unfair to associate this terrorist attack with our long struggle
for peace and justice for all. This crime has endangered those who would
protest nonviolently against injustice. It roused fears and spread
hatred. The reactionary will use his crimes to try to discredit the
reform movement. Police across the country will be even more on guard.
Violence isn’t an answer; it is sabotage.
America is scarred by what has become routine violence. There is good
news. The murder rate is dropping. The number of police killed in the
line of duty is lower in recent years than it was in earlier decades.
But according to the tally of the Washington Post, 509 people have been
shot by police to date in 2016, a pace similar to last year’s. And gun
violence continues to take a grisly toll.
The cameras that now are everywhere have begun to expose to America
the reality that people of color have known all too well. Now people of
good conscience must come together and demand change. This will take
multiracial coalitions, electoral mobilization and peaceful protest.
But the camera’s eye shows us only a glimpse of the symptoms; it does
not reveal the roots of the disease. The camera lens can reveal the
police abuse, breaking the curtain of silence. But it does not show the
roots of the problem.
The reality is that there are still two Americas. We’ve overcome legal
racial segregation but we haven’t overcome legal resource segregation in
schools, jobs, contracts, investments, access to capital, technology and
deal flow. Poor African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be
crowded into impoverished neighborhoods, marked by drugs and guns, by
violent streets and broken schools, unemployment and crushed hopes.
Police are tasked to keep order amid the despair. It is an impossible
Yes, we need justice when police officers brutalize the innocent. We
need more training, more cameras, more community relations, and new
community forms of policing. We need to end the racial disparities in
arrests, searches, sentencing and more.
But the police will still be in an impossible position unless we get
serious about making this one America, in redressing the lack of jobs,
the broken schools, the shortage of affordable housing, the lack of
health care and drug treatment, the shortage of parks and recreational
facilities. That is why we need a White House conference on the two
Americas, on racial disparity, poverty and reconstruction. We need a
plan for jobs, for rebuilding our impoverished neighborhoods, for
replacing guns with books and drugs with hope. Without that, the camera
lens will continue to reveal that the horrors and the crimes are
continuing, and the spiral of hate and fear deepening.