NB This column was only published online in The Portsmouth Herald
A recent column, “President Obama’s Dallas ‘Me’ Speech,” published locally in The Portsmouth Herald and Foster’s Daily Democrat irresponsibly linked the President of the United States to the murder of five Dallas police officers claiming, “Five police officers executed by an individual filled with hate, and in large part driven to this crime because of the false narrative promoted by groups like Black Lives Matter and this president.”
The author’s polemic went well beyond being tone-deaf. In content it was a reflection of a years-long deliberate and ongoing systemic marginalization of minority communities in America by white Republican and conservative forces – a reaffirmation of the fact that Black Lives has never mattered to most white Americans for four hundred years – and that for many, like the column’s author, it still isn’t an issue.
For the author there’s no institutional racism in America, no disparate justice-system results, no ongoing attempts to roll back minority voting rights. There’s no recognition that if you are a member of a community of color it remains still true, as German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted back in the 1930s, “Blacks and whites come separately to word and sacrament. They have no common worship.”
For the author, even Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ comments must have seemed irrelevant. For when the mayor argued that America must be willing to engage racial issues, “We as a city, as a state, as a nation are struggling with racial issues. Yes, it’s that word ‘race’. We’ve got to take it head on” he, in a city that had just lost five heroic police officers, was engaging a reality unseen and unacknowledged by the columnist.
“I think everybody understands all lives matter,” President Obama has previously said. “I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ was not because they were suggesting nobody else’s lives matter. Rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that’s happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities.”
Yet, the columnist reflected the view that for privileged white America years of systemic segregation and disenfranchisement of the Other by class, color, ethnicity, gender and sexual identity can be simply, when inconvenient, ignored and marginalized.
It was a petty column which deliberately ignored the context of Baton Rouge and Minneapolis that preceded Dallas and instead snarkily criticized Obama’s eulogy by way of personally attacking our Commander-in-Chief mentioning that Obama made reference to himself “at least 45 times.”
Let me quote seven of those times:
”I understand… I understand how Americans are feeling. But Dallas, I’m here to say we must reject such despair. I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem. And I know that because I know America. I know how far we’ve come against impossible odds.”
Le me quote two more of those times:
“See, that’s the America I know. The police helped Shetamia Taylor as she was shot trying to shield her four sons. She said she wanted her boys to join her to protest the incidents of black men being killed… She also said to the Dallas P.D., thank you for being heroes. And today, her 12-year-old son wants to be a cop when he grows up. That’s the America I know.”
Four more times:
“These men, this department, this is the America I know. And today in this audience, I see people who have protested on behalf of criminal justice reform grieving alongside police officers. I see people who mourn for the five officers we lost, but also weep for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In this audience, I see what’s possible.”
Sadly, the columnist cannot see what is possible. The column was not advocacy of a position or belief but a mean-spirited attempt to continue, by whatever means possible, to try and vilify, demean and delegitimize America’s first African-American president, a deliberate attempt to exploit the tragic circumstances of Dallas in order to try and breathe life into a tiresome, racially-inspired agenda that’s done more to cripple this nation than any movement for social justice could ever do.
When five police officers are killed in Dallas by a terrorist it’s not just a family or Texas tragedy; it’s an American tragedy. Because it’s an American tragedy President Obama was there, just as he has attended far too many similar events during his two terms – and he eulogized the victims and spoke to the nation with grace, intelligence, dignity and eloquence.
He did it with the power of truth – and a good part of today’s truth is that, contrary to what Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Republican operatives and some pundits and columnists allege, neither President Obama nor Black Lives Matter – nor any of their supporters – have painted proverbial targets on the backs of America’s law enforcement officers.
During the Reagan years an average of 101 police annually were intentionally killed, under George H. W. Bush it was 90, under Clinton, 81, under George W. Bush,72, and under Obama the average number of police officers intentionally killed annually is 62.
NB: Certainly the 2016 average will be raised upward by Dallas and Baton Rouge but not enough to raise the Obama years above other administrations.
Obama ended his eulogy with six more references to self:
“… And that’s what I take away from the lives of these outstanding men. The pain we feel may not soon pass, but my faith tells me that they did not die in vain. I believe our sorrow can make us a better country. I believe our righteous anger can be transformed into more justice and more peace. Weeping may endure for a night but I’m convinced joy comes in the morning.
“We cannot match the sacrifices made by Officers Zamarippa and Ahrens, Krol, Smith and Thompson, but surely we can try to match their sense of service. We cannot match their courage, but we can strive to match their devotion.
“May God bless their memory. May God bless this country that we love.”