Two Americas

It has been a sobering last few days in the U.S. The recent shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and the retaliatory killing of five Dallas police officers have had a chilling effect on America’s psyche. Some are shocked, many are angry and many more are scared. How could this happen? What could have been done to avoid these deaths?

To many who viewed the separate videos of Castile and Sterling it was shocking to witness the killing of these two men. Sadly, this is something that we’ve seen all too often over the past few years with the deaths of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Akai Gurley at the hands of police. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate the police and appreciate what they do very much. I also understand that they have a very tough job and have to make split second life or death decisions. Their bravery is unparalleled. But there has to be a change.

Across the country we have seen movements spawn such as “Black Lives Matter” and other ones such as “Blue Lives Matter,” but there is something that has to be said about getting to some real solutions. The main problem is perception. Many in the black community feel like the police are not serving as protectors and rather predators while some in the police community feel like they are targeted because of the uniform that they wear.

The contentious relationship that African-Americans have in this country dates back to Civil War era and earlier with the systemic  criminalization of black people through laws enacted by many states that forbade things such as reading, smoking in public, neglecting to step out of the way of a white person approached on a walkway and so forth. There were also vagrancy laws in that stipulated that unemployed individuals could be jailed and leased out as labor–these laws targeted newly freed slaves in particular, and ironically placed them back into the service of the very slave owners that they were freed from.

Conversely, there are the senseless killings of police in Dallas as well as the 2014 ambush style killing of two police officers in their cruiser. With instances like this it can be easy to see why some police officers would be on edge.

I know that many average Americans were unaware of the contentious and some times deadly encounters that people in the African-American community face with police. It was until these very graphic videos surfaced that people’s eyes started to open and reality began to set in. It’s as if we live in two America’s. One where police are perceived as protectors for all and another where they are perceived as predators to certain communities. In a classic Christopher Priest-written issue of Black Panther, T’Challa captures this sentiment perfectly.

Image Courtesy of Black Panther vol. 2 issue 8 (1998)

Indeed, how many nations are in this land? I believe that things can get better once people start acknowledging each other’s grievances and fears, that’s when some progress can happen. I truly hope that someday we can achieve the ideal that is America, “Out of many, one”