How Most Americans Can Find Common Ground on Race and Law Enforcement
George Floyd's death while in the custody of law enforcement officers in Minneapolis last week was absolutely terrible. In addition to being incredibly sad and difficult to watch, it ignited a vast array of emotions for many Americans - especially Black Americans. And understandably so.
Understanding without judgment
I recently devoted one of our recent programs to discussing what we witnessed in the tragic George Floyd videos.
During that episode, I also tried, to the best of my ability, to share the perspectives and concerns of those in the Black Community. Specifically, I tried to artiuclate their sincere belief that police abuse of unarmed black suspects is a rampant problem in our nation.
I tried to explain (as accurately as small town, white Midwestern talk show host can) the reasons many fear law enforcement officers and believe these officers have often used unjustifiable, violent force against black suspects who have posed little to no threat to them.
We need to acknowledge that there are absolutely examples of this. There have certainly been cases where law enforcement officers have used accessive, unjustifiable force against black suspects.
Let's take a moment to acknowledge this without any counterargument whatsoever.
Let's not point out the examples where the accusations made against officers have been unproven or even blatantly false.
Let's not turn the discussion to examples of white suspects being killed by law enforcement officers.
Let's not shift the conversation to "black-on-black crimes."
Let's not list the cases where the officers acted justifiably in self-defense with a dangerous suspect.
Let's not start explaining how politicians use race for their own benefit.
Let's not suggest we understand their viewpoint completely, even though the loss of human life breaks our hearts, too.
And let's not talk about the media's dishonesty and misrepresentations of truth. (We already know the vast majority of the media are professional deceivers anyway, so what else is new?)
I'm not suggesting we ignore this throughout the entire discourse.
I'm only suggesting we take a moment to acknowledge that there are certainly bad law enforcement officers. I'm not suggesting there are many or few at this point. I'm simply saying we need to acknowledge this. Some law enforcement officers have certainly caused unjustifiable harm - even death - to Black Americans. And we've got to prevent this, pure and simple.
Let's take a genuinely sincere moment to understand how this makes many Black Americans feel, especially when viewed through the lens of America's history of slavery and civil rights violations.
Take a moment. Be human. Be empathetic. Try to understand. Feel the fear. Don't judge. Don't argue.
Just sincerely seek to understand.
The vast majority of Americans can usually find agreement - even if it's small
This may seem like a bold statement given the political divide in this nation, but it is my experience that, in the vast majority of situations, we can find agreement with most people on most issues.
I understand that there are certainly exceptions to this.
As the most extreme example, we need look no further than those who try to start organizations who seek to divide and conquer and destroy America. Those organizations can be radical international terrorist organizations like Isis and al-Qaeda. And they can be domestic, homegrown terrorist organizations like Antifa.
But let me say this: the vast, vast majority of Americans do not fall into these radical ideologies.
Are there too many who do identify with these radical groups? Of course.
And are some people misled by their propaganda and rhetoric? Absolutely.
But they do not truly embrace the most radical, extreme elements of these reprehensible organizations.
And until they openly embrace these ideologies, they can be persuaded to constitutional conservatism.
It may not be easy, but it can be done.
We just have to be more persuasive.
Most Americans are reasonable when it comes to most ssues. They choose their politics for a litany of reasons, and it doesn't usually mean they are extreme ideologues or have radical viewpoints.
And we had better find a way to unify with one another where we can, lest the radicals divide and conquer us, taking control of our government and ushering in their crazy ideological beliefs.
Defending law enforcement officers
Once we genuinely seek to understand how many Black Americans feel about the issue of police violence against black suspects, we can usually have an open conversation about it. The conversation must be genuinely respectful and sincere, and we have to be sensitive and aware of the words we choose, but this conversation can then take place. I know because I've experienced it.
I believe you probably have, too. And if you haven't, I certainly believe you can.
But if we don't seek to be empathetic, it doesn't foster goodwill and it makes finding agreement almost impossible. After all, this is something some folks have felt and feared for a long, long time.
Imagine how it would you feel if one of your deepest, biggest fears was dismissed as silly or illogical or incorrect by someone? If you're like most, you'd probably have difficulty connecting with that person, and the idea of ever reaching any semblance of agreement would be nearly impossible.
I think it's important to note here that seeking to understand does not mean you have to agree that most (or even many) law enforcement officers are racist or unjustifiably abusive to the suspects they apprehend. To be clear, I do not think this is accurate. But I also believe that there are almost certainly some racist officers. After all, there are bad people and racists in any group of people. Humanity is fallen and broken. And as reprehensible as it is, racism is still alive-and-well in the hearts and minds of some people.
In spite of our brokenness, I've found that when we genuinely seek to understand and empathize with another person - even if we do not agree with the viewpoint they articulate - we curry favor and earn the right to explain the way we view the issue differently.
It's at this point - and not until this point - that we can begin to list some of the arguments I previously told you above to temporarily ignore.
The person with whom you're conversing may suddenly seem more receptive to some of the things you are saying. To be sure, they will not agree with everything. But you know what I say to that: So what?
The important thing is that the two of you have found some level of agreement. Sure, you may make different determinations as to whether a specific law enforcement officer was justified in using deadly force or if his actions were racially-motivated. But I suspect the two of you will agree that there are at least some examples of justifiable and unjustifiable police force used against suspects of all races and creeds.
And the loss of life, whether through justifiable or unjustifiable force, is always tragic.