Dallas tragedy wounds all Americans

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Dallas Chief David Brown talks to the news media on Friday after the sniper killings. Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings is behind him.
Dallas Chief David Brown talks to the news media on Friday after the sniper killings. Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings is behind him. AP

“Our profession is hurting. Dallas officers are hurting. We are heartbroken. There are no words to describe the atrocity that occurred to our city.”

The nation has been thrust into a profound state of grief by the cold-blooded and cowardly ambush of Dallas police officers. It leaves us reeling. Chief Brown could have been speaking for all Americans of goodwill in expressing the nation’s collective pain.

We are all heartbroken by this shocking slaughter.

The 12 officers who were shot were doing what police are trained to do: Serve and protect. They were ensuring that those who sought to protest the killing of black men at the hands of police officers in other cities could be safe while exercising their right to free speech on the streets of Dallas.

What could be more emblematic of the way in which we believe the system should work than to have police officers safeguarding citizens raising their voices in peaceful protest against police actions elsewhere? That is a picture of what the nation aspires to be. But the sniper fire shattered that picture. There is no easy or quick way to put the pieces back together.

At this moment in American history, the gap between our aspirations and our reality seems wider than ever. The nation cannot be whole, cannot be united, until that division is bridged.

Healing begins by acknowledging that violence is not the answer. It is never the answer. We can’t say that often enough.

We also know that the first step toward getting better is to acknowledge the problem. The shootings in Dallas represent the worst loss of life by police officers in one city since 9/11. Those in uniform see this horrible episode as an affirmation of the narrative that they are under a concerted attack in this country.

Yet according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the number of police officers killed by firearms has been coming down every decade since the 1970s, when 127 fell. But let’s also acknowledge this: One death is too many, and (as of this writing), five fatalities in one day, with seven wounded, is worse than a tragedy. It is an atrocity that will be written in red in our history books.

As bad as that is, this narrative must not erase the other narrative that pleads for attention in a wounded nation. Black people fear becoming victims of the police — just because they’re black.

Police officers are acutely aware that merely stepping out on the street in uniform puts their lives in jeopardy.

Similarly, the deaths of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minn., and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. — two apparently law-abiding black men — by officers acting under the color of law adds to the fears of black Americans.

We must acknowledge these twin realities. Police fear they’re under siege and blacks fear the excessive and needless use of deadly force by those in uniform. Both issues must be addressed before healing can begin.

And can we also concede that easy access to military-style weapons is a big part of the problem? A broken legislative system that refuses to deal with this glaring reality is one big reason that we are stuck in an unending cycle of violence. A related reason is a public health system that fails to offer adequate treatment for the mentally ill prone to violence.

The tragedy in Dallas must seal a commitment to reverse America’s headlong plunge into a cycle of worsening violence. There is no contradiction between being pro-police and pro-black. Until we can be both, we will remain a nation divided.