We the People: In the aftermath of violence

Something needs to be done.

A fatal police shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a symbol of a need to make a change in our way of policing our society. Videos show a “death by cop” of a black man by white police officers that was unjustifiable under the circumstances.

Two Baton Rouge cops answered an anonymous 911 call that reported a man selling CDs outside a convenience store was brandishing a gun. They responded and forced Alton Sterling onto his back and onto the floor. One officer pinned Sterling’s left hand and arm while the other officer was kneeling on him, but a cry of “He’s got a gun” prompted one officer to draw his weapon and point it at Sterling’s chest while the second officer reached for his weapon.

Five shots were fired but the video showed there was no weapon in Sterling’s hands. The officer who fired says he did so because his partner was frantically yelling that Sterling had a gun and because he believed that he was in mortal danger. The video evidence marks that belief as unreasonable.

Protests erupted after the incident and additional fatal police shootings in Minnesota and here in Brooklyn. What should citizens do when confronted with such terrible incidents? Some people advocate that calls for calm should be ignored and others adopt incendiary language that equates individual injustice with genocide.

If Alton Sterling were a white man, the incident in Baton Rouge would be just as outrageous and should command the attention of people of conscience in America. The Baton Rouge police and local prosecutor turned over the investigation to the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI, which is appropriate under the circumstances. New York has moved for independent investigation of police shootings so that its justice system is not expected to investigate its own law enforcement officers.

The shootings sparked demands for justice and precipitated protests and marches around the country. Unfortunately, legitimate protest draws self-absorbed individuals who attempt to insert themselves into the situation with a personal agenda that doesn’t necessarily prioritize justice for the aggrieved.

What needs to be done for Alton Sterling and his family? His sister, Mignon Chambers, summed it up succinctly and told reporters, “It wasn’t right and something needs to be done.” She is right. The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is leading the investigation into what happened. This is a good start and justice will be done but not on the streets or by people who embrace violence.

In Dallas, Texas, a sick individual filled with hate took advantage of these incidents to justify terrible personal actions. A Black Lives Matter protest there was used by the coward as an opportunity to carry out a sniper attack on police officers who were assuring that order was maintained.

Hundreds of people of all races were peacefully marching when gunfire erupted. Eleven police officers were shot and five killed by the shooter who lay in wait along the protest route. Two civilians, including a mother shielding her children, were also wounded in the attack. Three suspects, including a woman, were taken into custody and the fourth killed himself after a standoff with police at the scene. The dead murderer warned that there were bombs “all over the place,” but searches revealed the claim was an empty threat.

President Obama, at a NATO summit, called the Dallas shootings “a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement” and a “reminder of the sacrifices they make for us” on a daily basis. The unjustified killings of civilians are despicable as well but they are not calculated and they shall be addressed by the proper authorities.

During the sniper attack, video footage reflects black and white officers standing together to protect the public, to safeguard civilians and, later on, to grieve, together, another senseless loss of life. Every person’s death diminishes us as a society, and we must stand together and demand justice for anyone victimized, but justice cannot be delivered through violent acts or violent words.

There are hundreds of millions of weapons in the U.S. and Republicans in Congress cannot even move forward on an NRA-approved ban prohibiting suspected terrorists from legally purchasing weapons. In Dallas, another deluded, demented and disgruntled individual was able to procure high power weaponry to kill innocent people in America.

We must work together and demand change: changes to our gun laws, changes to police officer selection and training, and changes to the way we speak and treat each other. If we truly believe that every person is a son or daughter or brother or sister to someone else, the recognition of our fellow humanity will stop the acceptance of violence we are mourning today.

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