Racial divide: too real

December 23, 2014
new day tomorrow

What are we going to do with it?

One 30-year-old local who gave his first name only as Carlos, didn’t hear the fatal gunfire but saw the hysteria aftewards and walked to the police tape.

“A lot of people were clapping and laughing,” he said.

“Some were saying, ‘They deserved it,’ and another was shouting at the cops, ‘Serves them right because you mistreat people!’” he said.  story in The Daily Beast after the assassination of officers in Brooklyn by someone who seemed clearly crazy

I can’t breathe!  -Eric Garner

It’s horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people that they call for help. -son of slain officer Ramos

*   *   *   *   * 

I seek to understand why cities still explode over racial issues,  why citizens would celebrate the murder of police officers,  why officials seem tone deaf to a community’s concerns and even blind.  As a child of the ’60s–the era in which civil rights became a focus– I can’t help but wonder why we are still in that place.

Why? I’m looking for answers, solutions and an end to the polarization that keeps each side in its own camp.  That’s where we sit. In our own camps. Watching a smoldering fuse to a keg of dynamite, waiting for the explosion. Because it’s coming. And it could be bigger than anything we’ve ever seen.

Under what possible circumstance could it be morally right to celebrate the killing of police officers? Are we that kind of people?

Is it helpful for police to turn their back on Mayor DiBlasio? For unions to foster an us/them mentality?

Does it make any sense for officers to be enraged because Mayor DiBlasio felt he had to speak to his biracial son about how to deal with police should he be stopped?  Would anyone possibly think that those “enraged” officers would be anything but white?

Let’s get real. As an officer friend of mine said to me yesterday: “There’s immaturity on both sides.”


Here’s what we have too little of:Seek first to understand

What kind of understanding? All kinds.

Maybe we should understand that the Mayor’s wife is black and his son is biracial, giving him a view that most white people don’t have. Maybe we should understand that our black President has the same view. That their life experience could be an advantage for our nation and could help inform our views. Or we could criticize their observations and blame them for the assassination of officers by a deranged individual.

Maybe we should understand that killing cops is just flat wrong, regardless of how wronged we feel. It’s wrong. There is no grey here. Killing is wrong but killing cops? That’s orders of magnitude MORE wrong, if there is such a thing. People who celebrate such things should be…well, I am not a violent person. But they certainly should NOT be given any air time.

Maybe we should “get” that the cop killer was unbalanced and that he alone was responsible. Not the Mayor. Not the President. The only hands with blood are the killer’s. Who didn’t even live in Brooklyn.

Maybe we should say “Enough with the inflammatory rhetoric” and understand just how irresponsible (and immature) it is.

Maybe more people should understand that officers walk out the door for work every day not knowing what “end of shift” is going to really mean. Maybe they should put themselves in the officers’ shoes for a moment.

Maybe we should really take in all that law enforcement does for us every single day.

*   *   *  *   *

I started writing this piece after Ferguson, when I saw a CNN special. I rewrote it after the Garner grand jury. And now, here I am again, shaking my head in horror at what is about to explode. It could explode before I post this. Because we really ARE looking at a smoldering fuse.

So here’s what I started to write, slightly updated.

*   *   *   *   *

When I see a TV program that explores the opposing “camps” that have formed over racial issues I can’t help but tune in. Because I want to learn.

The CNN series, Black in America, has some fine reporting and a few months ago I found Soledad O’Brien’s segment, Black and Blue, particularly riveting. O’Brien reported from the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of NYC, where aggressive policing has had a serious impact on young men in the mostly black community.  In an 11-year period, the NYPD reported making more than FIVE MILLION STOPS.

Good, proactive policing, you’d think, right?

Well, hang on to your hat:

O’Brien pointed out that more than 80 percent of those stopped were African American or Latino, and some 88 percent of the stops failed to result in an arrest, citation, summons or evidence of a crime. Of course, the “theory” is that if you stop people about the small issues, it prevents bigger ones.Unfortunately, many were stopped for no issue at all.

What were they thinking_

A police officer whose identity was blurred out told her that NYPD officers were forced to meet a quota on which senior officials were evaluated. Hence, the extreme number of stops. This quota system has been mentioned in recent days as playing a role in how police officers have been forced to stop people in New York City.  This was a super-bad decision, it seems to me. A policy that was bound to blow up.

Inexplicably, the new NYC mayor appointed a new police commissioner–the same guy who initiated these policies in 2002.  I saw this commissioner for the first time at the TV press conference on the Garner case and he sounded really tone deaf to me, making dumb preliminary remarks to reporters about the new building they were in and the restaurant that was due to open soon. I mean, seriously? At a televised news conference about steps being taken to avoid another Garner? Tone. Deaf.

But. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how damaging it is to stop young people (or old) who were not doing anything wrong. Except maybe being black in a bad part of town.

On the CNN program I was particularly taken with a young college student who had been stopped by police some 100 times–for no reason–and his mother’s constant refrain to remember how Martin (Dr. MLK) responded in the face of provocation back in the days of the civil rights movement. Here we are, some 50 years later and people of color are still having to turn the other cheek.  And the police? They sounded scared to death. Terrified. As I would be.


I saw these myself in the south in the early 1960s.

I saw these myself in the south in the early 1960s.

It’s been couple years since Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman in Florida and more than a year since his Zimmerman was found not guilty.  The fullness of time has revealed Zimmerman to be a troubled guy (at best) to those who have been paying attention to the little news stories here and there about his actions and behavior.  There have been quite a few, but most recently, he threatened to kill a man during a road rage incident in Lake Mary, Fla. To say I was surprised by the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case is a understatement.  While there’s much to remember about that case, one of the most astonishing was the number of reasonable, good people I know who defended Zimmerman out loud.  And astonishing is too mild a word.

As far as I can tell, he murdered Martin and what he’s done to date has only reinforced my opinion. No, I wasn’t on the jury. But it just seems obvious that he lives in Crazytown.

And then, Ferguson, Mo.  Same old, I’m afraid, just a little twist on it.  It’s more difficult than ever to figure out what really happened in Ferguson because these days our “reporters,” and I use the term loosely, all represent a point of view.  Fox, National Review, MSNBC and all the rest–they’re not objective and certainly not ” fair and balanced.”  So those who want to blame the black community will find ample evidence of its culpability in the spin that Fox and other conservative media outlets put on the story and those who want to pin the blame on police will also find stories that twist the facts in that direction.  As M said the other day, not all black people are criminals and not all cops are bad cops.

The trouble is, we can’t figure it out from the media coverage. Those of us who really want to know what happened in Ferguson are left in the dark.  Maybe if there’s a civil trial. But maybe not.  We have no way of knowing what really happened in ANY situation today.

The next high-profile case was Garner’s. The guy was stopped for selling untaxed single cigarettes and then accidentally killed. I mean, did the guy really need to be approached like that for cigs? I get that merchants had complained about him. And that he was resisting, or at least officers thought he was. But the response seemed excessive on the video. He shouldn’t have died.

world messAnd now, officers have been murdered, right in Bedford-Stuy, the location of that CNN program that captured my attention.

Look around at the world. I don’t have to tell you that it’s a mess. And it starts here at home. The widening racial divide is troubling. More than troubling. Because I don’t know why it’s still there. More than 50 years after law enforcement in the South SET DOGS AND HOSES on civil rights protesters, where are we?  Have we made any real progress since the days of separate drinking fountains?  It’s not a specious question. And the answer to that is the bigger picture behind this violence we see against law enforcement.

I am well aware of how slowly the wheels of change move. But on this, the gear shift seems to be stuck in reverse and that shocks me.

The sun sets every day, giving us an opportunity for a fresh start at dawn tomorrow.  The day before us is a blank slate. Anything can happen. Including good. And including change.

I ask myself, What can I– we– to change this situation?

It feels like precious little.

But I’m asking you the same question. What can we do to begin to close the racial divide that seems to be getting only wider? How do we deal with the polarization in this country that’s only getting worse?


40 comments on “Racial divide: too real
  1. ryder ziebarth says:

    I am so glad you put this into words because it falls in deaf ears with my husband, who I am beginning to become worried about–he is becoming completely unhinged about this and paranoid. I reminded him of the fact that in 1965, I couldn’t get to my orthodontist appointments in Plainfield NJ because of the race riots. This is not new, but yes, STILL on-going and it seems the civil rights movement has taken a step back into the past.The mayor had every right to warn his son–but privately. Obama has no right leaning on Al Sharpton, a known “pot stir-er” without the finesse and genius of Martin Luther–The city cops seem brutish, the gang blacks, dangerous–how to separate them will take only a miracle and until that comes, this situation will escalate.We are no better than the countries in the mid-East that we in the States so vehemently abhor for their animal like actions toward each other. I pray for peace in 2015. I suggest we all get on our hands and knees and ask for forgiveness and understanding–especially those in power.

  2. ryder ziebarth says:

    Pray. Get down on our knees , every single one of us, cops, presidents, priests, blacks, whites, yellow, green and orange, get on the floor and beg God to give us peace, forgivness and understanding of one another.Fear is what is behind the world -wide mess, and fear fuels the engine of anger and anger powers hatred and paranoid. Pray for power in the form of peace and hope to hell it helps.

  3. I wish I could answer your question and change the world, Carol. I have no idea what we can do. I am so disturbed by the grand jury verdicts, by the words and actions of the people in charge in NYC, by the deep-seated racism that seems to live in so many people’s hearts.

    I do think, once again, that guns – in the case of the NY shootings – are far too easy to get, and had this terribly disturbed man not been able to get his hands on one, those officers would still be alive.

  4. I agree with you about guns. I know lots of people who defend their right to bear arms like crazy, but I also have to say that the majority of them aren’t particularly balanced. Not completely. Not all, but the majority of those I know.

  5. I agree with you and Sharon on guns. Far too many, far too easily attained. It’s a tragic shame love, empathy, understanding, and consideration for our fellow beings don’t rule the world, that it’s fear and hatred (and idiocy) instead. And the media fans the flames to the nth degree. Disheartening on so many levels.

    • So many of us believe this about guns and yet the gun lobby has the ear of lawmakers. I know our system is supposed to be the best in the world, but it’s very easily bought and sold.

  6. Carolann says:

    You’re right about one thing – the world is a mess. My husband reminds me this happens every 30 years or so. What a nightmare for sure. All we can do is pray for a better world.

  7. Diane says:

    As the mother of a police officer, I’m deeply disturbed about this. But as a human being, even more so. It does seem like the racial gap is widening. In these days of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’, things only seem to be getting worse. I don’t understand it. Maybe it all comes back to the dissolving of the family. Maybe it’s due to a pervading sense of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ and entitlement. But it is scary.

  8. I know that there isn’t an answer, but I think there are many roots of the issue, and that’s a good place to start. One is what I see around me every day, the lack of human contact. When I call a company, I speak to a machine. When I shop, it’s often online. There’s no such thing as Customer Service any more. We don’t look each other in the eye any more. We don’t connect on that level and I think it’s making us more callus in our dealings with each other as human beings.
    No, this isn’t the only piece, not by a long shot. But I think it’s taking us in the wrong direction as a society.

  9. You asked: What can we do to begin to close the racial divide that seems to be getting only wider?

    * Read books that discuss the matter. Start with The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

    * Join local groups that are working on the issue. There are lots here in St. Louis County — I found the most comfortable fit with some of the religious organizations that work across racial lines. I’m not particularly religious, but they are good at creating safe spaces.

    * Make sure your personal social circle crosses racial divides. Ask questions of people of color and listen to the answers: What are your experiences with the police? What do you tell your children about interacting with police officers? What changes would you like to see in the American justice system?

  10. WendysHat says:

    Tragic is an understatement. Those police officers did nothing wrong. So sad. As far as the divide I say “Can’t we all just get along?” People look to leaders for guidance and I think they are failing us on both sides of the aisle, and the media today is not helping anything either. I don’t have the answers but I can do my part by treating others as I would want to be treated myself. What ever happened to the Golden Rule anyway?

    • Yes, you’re right, leaders are failing on both sides. And yes yes on the Golden Rule.

      • Excellent post, Carol. And Wendy, I agree. What happened to leading by example? It seems to me that everyone is so focused on protecting “theirs” that there is no thought of doing what is right for this country. It is crazy-making and fear-enhancing. I feel that our leaders (ALL of them) are failing us to some degree or other. I am appalled at the egos of those who profess to run our country.

  11. These events have brought these issues to the attention of the public, but it has been there all along. I did graduate work with Dr Robert Staples, an expert on the black family, and learned years ago that it was “open season” on young black men. Whether killed by gang members, drive bys, or the cops, people do not seem to care (I’m glad to see that changing) that young black men are consistently hounded. It is buried in the American psyche to fear the black male. I’m not saying that Darren Wilson looked at Michael Brown and thought “big black guy, I need to shoot” consciously….but I am betting that if it had been a white guy that white guy would be alive. The history of this fear needs to be examined, publicly, and discussed. This fear has been present since the first black man walked on American soil, and it has been nurtured, and legislated. We have to root this out.

  12. charles house says:

    Clear, concise, trenchant writing, as usual, Carol. I quite agree with you, especially re: “How do we deal with the polarization in this country that’s only getting worse?”

    I also quite agree that we’re “Watching a smoldering fuse to a keg of dynamite, waiting for the explosion. Because it’s coming. And it could be bigger than anything we’ve ever seen.”

    My wife and I have just moved from Palo Alto to Elderwood (near Visilia) and it is “worlds apart” in views on so much. From “here,” gun control, GLBT, corporate “rights”, environmental damage, ethnic war, and ObamaCare are virtually 180 degrees misaligned with our Bay area friends. Ditto for rural Ohio or Iowa, or Vermont, I’d have to imagine. No eco-friendly cars nearby (Prius or Tesla), no munificent machines (Jag, Maserati, Ferrari), no Facebook multi-millionaires. Visilia (125K folk) is our only town–its a Chevy and Toyota small pickup truck town; the ranches wouldn’t consider such wimp cars, they’re all Ford F250 and F350 or Dodges. Visilia is in Tulare county, the richest agricultural county in America, but also has the third worst air pollution of any city in America–all Silicon Valley smog trapped by the 13,000+ front range of the Kaweahs and Mt. Whitney ridge. It also is 56th of 58 counties in CA in terms of per capita income. The owners win; the workers starve.

    It is not hard to imagine that we’re heading for a cataclysm face-off; the issues I see that are helping to fuel this, though, are the hopelessness that many feel for a host of seemingly systemic issues, whether in Visilia, Oakland, New Orleans, or Souix Falls, Iowa. First, there are fewer and fewer jobs, especially jobs for under-educated youth. So, there is little incentive or opportunity in our inner cities. Tied to that are the “three strikes and you’re out” laws, that trap mostly these same kids, at an unprecedented rate for any nation ever.

    And then, we gut the middle class with outsourcing and offshoring, because it helps keep our corporations profitable. And they almost uniformly hide their profits overseas and wait for a Republican president and congress to repatriate the monies tax-free. This is a bigger scandal both ways–killing the jobs, and killing the tax base that provides jobs–than any Teapot Dome or even Savings and Loan scams. And as some of our Sand Hill Road friends say–it is the greatest legal land grab in history. It is stunning to think that 432 Americans made more money last year than the bottom 120M of us.

    And to help out, the people we enshrine–Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Bill Cosby–turn out to be fallible, but on top of that, our best authors–Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin–turn out to be incorrigible plagiarists, for whom other respected American leaders (i.e. Walt Isaacson) jump to their defense immediately, kinda like Oprah for Cosby. And just for grins, Isaacson ignores (even denies) what Jobs and Apple did for education, but extol it for entertainment. As though we need more soporific help in this society.

    Is the embarrassment about our “for-profit” colleges worth adding to the list–American kids are saddled with 60% more debt than all Americans with all credit cards combined, for a future with too few jobs, especially well-paying jobs.

    And, horror of horrors, college football is going to be unionized? While U. of Michigan can offer Jim Harbaugh $50M for a few years; that is more money by a factor of two or three or four than any Ivy League college president will earn in a lifetime. But yes, sports does offer both an aphrodisiac or opiate, and a potential earnings stream, for many underprivileged youth.

    In Tulare County, the politicians shut off the Delta water this year; the locals pumped from artesian wells to keep their farms going. So far, 825 private wells have gone dry; more than half of the state’s well failures are in this one county (of 58 in CA), yet Governor Brown and the legislature’s basic response is to begin to regulate ground water rather than declare an emergency. On the other hand, within days, they were able to declare emergency status for Marin, San Mateo, Mendocino, and Ventura counties for rain damage last week. Guess where the votes are.

    So, yes, the police brutality in Cleveland and in many other places, the too-frequent gang violence, and the racial profiling are all symptoms, but the “what’s in it for me” attitude in far too many sectors of our society seem to me to create a cynicism and fuel the polarization to which you refer.

  13. michelle says:

    I get so overwhelmed by this. It’s all so tragic.

  14. I don’t know the answer to any of these questions but for the first time in my life I am actually afraid. I am afraid what is going to happen in this country and to this country. There are so many outside forces working against us that for us to be tearing each other apart is despicable. I’m sure these countries are sitting back laughing at us for your behaviors. I have to say I agree with M there are bad on both sides. The fact that people are cheering about the murder of 2 innocent police officers makes me ill. How does this help the cause? How can it do anything other than to make that divide even wider and uglier. I have my two new grandchildren and look at their faces and wonder what kind of world it will be when they get older and it scares me to death. Why can’t we all just get along.

  15. pia says:

    Does anybody actually know anyone who is cheering the murder of policemen? Why shouldn’t Blacks be real and talk about what they have to teach their sons.
    I know. I know. Those comments make me a “cop hater,” as I was called on Facebook. I am far from a cop hater; I know how important they are to my life.
    Why aren’t people talking about the average citizen in Bed Stuy who brought candles and other things to memorialize the cops. The killer came from Baltimore.
    NY is probably the most racially cohesive city in the country and it took many decades to get there.
    Decades being undone by all this talk about Bed Stuy and Mayor DeBlasio who has every right to worry.
    He has to be public to let others know what he and his wife worry about everyday of their lives and maybe to make more people aware. Instead people seem intent on “I’m a good person but…”
    No sane person is cheering the murders.
    I lived through the 1960’s-90’s in NY–OJ brought out a lot of repressed emotions on all sides but not like this.
    I went to college in Boston during school deseg days. I would see Black people and feel fear. I was doing an internship at a program that was supposed to help people stay in and maintain homes. Whites—they thought I was Irish/Polish Catholic and talked freely in front of me about how kids should drop out of high school and become tractor trailer drivers and horrible things they were planning on doing.
    It was worse then in Boston but there wasn’t the Internet.
    Everyone in this country deserves a chance. And non-Blacks need to think about how hard it is for the average Black family right now.

  16. There are so many different issues going on at once. Racism isn’t going to go away until we all start to get to know each other on a personal level and realize that we are more alike than we are different. The police need to have their own education program, where they all learn to work together and see people as individuals, not by race. And WE NEED TO CONTROL GUNS. I can not believe our forefathers ever anticipated citizens with assault rifles when they wrote the second amendment. Yes, it is all a mess right now and I hope each one of us can do our small part to make it better.

  17. Patricia says:

    Keep writing and talking and making us think Carol. It is so important not to be silent even if you do not have answers

  18. D. A. Wolf says:

    I live in a part of the country where black-white interaction is perfectly usual and normal, certainly among certain circles. But even in this, we don’t necessarily fully understand the depth of the injustices, the differences in how we raise our children, and in what our children face – black, white, brown, and so on.

    You might find this of interest. A light bulb moment for me, a few snippets from a serious conversation with my college-aged son.


    These issues are about more than fear. They are deeply rooted in and supported by infrastructure that crosses our delivery of education, healthcare, and many more systems.

    • Thanks, D.A., I’ll take a look.

    • chuck house says:

      Very powerful meeting with your son…. Thanks for the pointer! And for Huffington to carry it speaks to the exposure asked for in some of these comments.

      I can’t help thinking, as I read the group of comments, that maybe we’re missing a point here: very possibly the media (which I too find distasteful) is actually helping by revealing stuff that undoubtedly has been with us for a long time. Recall the parable about the tree falling in the forest–does it make a sound if no one is there to hear? Think, for example, of the opening scene of The Butler. Crass killing, totally unreported. How many of those have happened? Maybe it isn’t worse now; we’re just exposed more.

      • Michael has said the same thing, Chuck. I do think the media play a key role, but I think we could use less inflammatory, biased coverage and more Walter Cronkite-old-school style coverage. I’m good with “exposing” but I don’t like “inciting,” which is the result of one-sided coverage.

  19. Ruth Curran says:

    It is the deafening and stomach churning silence that gets me Carol. We need to find our voices and use them. My blog is about brain health so even when my heart is heavy and my words bubble up, my blog is not the right platform for my personal opinions – no matter how important. So, I search for a place to scream at the top of my lungs that this misrepresentation by the media, this unequal treatment, and this horrifying silence has got to stop! I love that you wrote this but hate that you had to. Yes, we should be so much more evolved shouldn’t we?

  20. I think you’re right about the “about to explode” part. It’s going to get way worse before it can possibly get any better. It’s mind boggling to think that after all that we, as a nation, have gone through to foster good race relations, that we’re still seemingly inches from the starting line. I have no idea what the answer is. All I can do is pray. And I’ll continue to do that.

  21. joan says:

    I hope here are more people who are thinking like you!!! Thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Follow Carol


Here you’ll find my blog, some of my essays, published writing, and my solo performances. There’s also a link to my Etsy shop for healing and grief tools offered through A Healing Spirit.


I love comments, so if something resonates with you in any way, don’t hesitate to leave a comment on my blog. Thank you for stopping by–oh, and why not subscribe so you don’t miss a single post?


Subscribe to my Blog

Receive notifications of my new blog posts directly to your email.