Clippings: Do all lives matter? Change is proof

The atmosphere was tense in this country following the highly publicized killings of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, by police officers earlier this month. It became dramatically more so when a young Afghan War veteran decided to retaliate by killing five police officers with a sniper rifle in Dallas, Texas.
Issues that are this politically charged are frustrating to talk about because both sides tend to speak past one another. “Black lives matter.” “No. All lives matter.” “Do they really, though?”
Full disclosure: I have participated in marches organized by the Burlington chapter of Black Lives Matter, and I am supportive of the movement to rein in both the disproportionate killing of minorities and the enormous prison system we have developed in this country over the past several decades.
I think that this society has a very real and very unacknowledged problem with racism. Many people seem to have a desperate desire to move beyond this issue by ignoring it or just denying it outright. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but wishes and prayers won’t make it go away. What we need is honest dialogue followed by meaningful actions.
Police departments clearly need to be reformed, but some reforms are easier than others. In October 2006, the FBI released a document titled, “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement,” which warns us that white supremacist groups “have historically engaged in strategic efforts to infiltrate and recruit from law enforcement communities.” Seems like an obvious starting point to me.
Then there is the issue of police militarization. In 2015, after the initially peaceful protests in Ferguson, Mo., escalated into riots, many pointed to the overwhelming and well-armed police response as strong contributing factor. The Obama administration responded by ending the decades old policy of allowing police departments to acquire weapons, vehicles and riot control gear at below-market prices from the U.S. military. It probably won’t last long, however. On July 21, Reuters reported that the White House is currently revisiting the ban.
It’s not just police departments, of course. Other areas of our society need to be examined as well. Law-based segregation may have ended in the ’60s, but many parts of this country are still de facto segregated due to overt discrimination as well as the disproportionate level of personal wealth — in the form of home ownership for the vast majority of U.S. citizens — which still, on average, tips the scales in favor of whites over most other ethnic groups. Funding schools with property taxes then serves to further lock impoverished groups into a vicious cycle of second-rate citizenship.
The refrain of “all lives matter” is superficially a positive one. We should absolutely strive for a world in which all lives matter. Unfortunately for us, the simple act of saying that phrase is not even remotely enough to actually make it so. Until we start to knuckle down and begin making real changes, the tension will only get worse. And so will the pain. 

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