The past few days have been nothing short of insane, with two more questionable shootings of black men by white police officers, and the subsequent murder of five police officers in Dallas.
To be clear, nothing can justify any of these murders. The five officers killed in Dallas is unforgivable, especially when considering the fact that their lives were taken while they were working to protect people who were protesting against them.
I have nothing but respect for the brave officers who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us from the sick and twisted few who view violence as a justifiable mean to an end. It’s an incredibly difficult job that is only getting harder, and requires men and women of exceptional courage and character.
At the same time, because their job is so important, I believe that police officers should be held accountable to a higher standard. The stakes are too high to suffer the incompetent and corrupt few who besmirch the integrity of the badge and weaken the trust that citizens must have in the institution to maintain a semblance of order and sanity.
One of the outputs of the week has been debate about the legitimacy of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. There’s been a lot of push back against the movement, from preposterous and inflammatory rhetoric from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who classified the movement as a “terrorist organization,” to the many dim-witted racists who dismiss it with the broad sweeping statement that “all lives matter.”
Well, no shit. That is so obviously true. If only the people saying that really believed it, if they paid attention to some simple facts, they’d begin to grasp that white America and black America are two radically different places. Once one begins to understand these differences, the need for a “Black Lives Matter” movement becomes as obvious as the fact that for many Americans, black lives don’t matter.
The discrepancies between these two different Americas are so vast and complex that there are no easy sound bite solutions. For more than one hundred years, blacks have been segregated and abandoned, relegated to lives of poverty and violence, with inadequate access to education, health care and employment. As a result, a culture of cynicism, drug use, and violence has developed. The inner city neighborhoods have become war zones, with no way out, and no way in for the abundant riches enjoyed by those outside.
How big are the gaps? Here are some numbers I pulled down from the Center of Disease Control’s (CDC) website this morning:
Average life expectancy, U.S., birth 2010
Total population 78.7
White males 76.5
Black males 71.8
White females 81.3
Black females 78.0
U.S. Infant mortality rate – Deaths before first year, per 1,000 births
Total population 6.17
Unplanned pregnancies from 2006 to 2010
U.S. Whites 30%
U.S. Blacks 70%
U.S. Obesity Rate
Age White Black
2-5 years 3.5% 11.3%
6-11 13.1 23.8
12-19 19.6 22.1
20-39 26.2 46.0
40-59 38.7 49.3
60 or more 34.0 48.5
Deaths from Firearms per 100,000 people
Age White Black
15-24 14 75
25-34 17 79
35-44 15 33
45-64 20 15
65 and over 27 7
It’s taken a long time for things to get to this point, and the reasons for the disparity in all of these numbers are many and complex, and the solutions too difficult for a simple mind like my own to comprehend. But maybe the first step is for white America to recognize that we’re all Americans and decide that it is unacceptable for so many of our fellow citizens to be discarded and abandoned and forced to live under such deplorable conditions. Maybe the first step is the simple acknowledgement that black lives really do matter.