Music played. Stadiums packed. Mascots pranced. The NFL started up again this week, and millions of eyes were on the athletes — not for the long throws, the balletic catches or the bruising tackles, but to see if the players would stand, sit, kneel or even come out of the locker rooms for the national anthem.
I didn’t see the start of a game. We had other stuff going on. But I’m sure there will be approval and disapproval, angst and anger in letters-to-the-editor, opinion columns and every on-line forum imaginable. I’m sure the Twit-in-Chief will fan the flames once more, to try and distract Americans from his latest foible.
Frankly, it all seems a little pathetic.
You see, in Dallas Friday night, another young black man was shot to death by a white police officer. This one wasn’t by the side of the road during a traffic stop, or on a crime-ridden street corner. This time, the officer was just coming home from her shift and went to the wrong apartment. Apparently when she saw a strange man — a strange black man — in what she thought was her home, a misunderstanding that could have been comic escalated to the point that she drew her service weapon and shot him dead.
He wasn’t in her home; he was in his own home. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, or even questionable. Either the door was open, or he opened it when he saw her uniform. It may have been just an honest, tragic mistake by a tired young officer, or it may have been something worse. The Texas Rangers are investigating, and they will find out. No matter how it shakes out, it’s another tragedy — for the victim, his family and friends, and for that officer. It’s a pretty good bet her career is over. She may go to jail. No matter what happens, she has to live with the guilt of having taken an innocent life.
You just want to cry. But it’s time for all of us — of every color — to do more than cry or shake our heads and say, “that’s a shame.” It’s time for more than just black people, more than just athletes, more than just activists, to rise up and say that something is wrong.
I “back the blue” as much as anyone. I have friends in law enforcement, and I appreciate the hard, thankless work of police officers, sheriff’s deputies, the Highway Patrol, the FBI and everyone else who wears a badge. Many have given their lives in this service, and those losses are no less tragic than this one.
In fact, their heroic service is being undermined and overshadowed by these senseless, needless shootings. The vast majority of them would not, and do not, react this way in these situations. Something is wrong with the ones who do.
It may be racism, fear, fatigue, a lack of training, too many cop shows on TV, violent video games or violent streets — but there is something wrong with some of these police officers. It’s not a majority, or even a large number. But a fatal few have a real, tangible problem: a knee-jerk fear that sends them reaching for a gun when they see a black person in a place they don’t think he’s supposed to be.
Botham Jean was a good young man — a churchgoing, worship-leading inspiration to many of those who were privileged to know him. As I read about him, I wished I had known him. He came here as an immigrant from the Caribbean, earned a college degree, got an internship with a big Dallas company and was making his way. He had a big smile, a bright future, a family and many friends who loved him.
But the other lives taken in police shootings are no less valuable. The 14-year-old boy in the back seat of a car, the college athlete at a car lot, the kid playing with a toy gun at a park in Cleveland — sadly, the list goes on and on. I’m sick to death of learning after the fact that the victim wasn’t armed, wasn’t a danger, wasn’t threatening anyone. Before we give someone a uniform, a badge and a gun, we need to do a better job of vetting them and training them to recognize who is a threat and who is not.
I don’t know who it helps to take a knee during the national anthem. Maybe that gesture has served its purpose. It’s time to move beyond gestures and truly work on this problem, focus all our knowledge, all our data-gathering ability, all our passion on better screening, better testing and better training for police officers.
All Americans should understand that it does not dishonor our country or our flag to look at a problem honestly and take decisive action toward a real solution — one that will save the lives of innocent people and hard-working, overstressed police officers. It’s what we do. It’s why people like Botham Jean are drawn to this country in the first place.
Personally, I don’t care whether or not you kneel for the Star-Spangled Banner. I’m pretty big on free speech and the right to protest. But America would be better served if we all did a little more kneeling in a different context: prayer for the families who have had their loved ones gunned down, prayer for the officers who have to live with their rash, tragic actions, and prayer for our troubled country.
Don’t let these lives be wasted. Let’s come together and work on this problem for all the right reasons — to make life better for our protectors, and possible for our people.