President Obama came to Dallas to help heal the broken hearts of family and friends of the five police officers murdered by a gunman at a Black Lives Matter rally. His opening words of comfort addressed the character of each of the slain policeman, naming them and speaking about them each as men of valor, our public servants. Our President came also to address the suffering of all Americans in a deepening racial divide, a “fault line of racial hatred within our democracy.”
President Obama turned to scripture, to the prophet Ezekiel, to invoke our need for a transplanted heart—a “new heart, a heart of flesh to replace a heart of stone” to heal our racial divide. As I watched his speech, for it was that, an appeal as much as a eulogy for the hardened stone heart to transform to a heart of flesh, I paid particular attention to the “white” police officer seated just behind and to the right of the President. I was watching him, his body, his hands and his stoic face, waiting to see if and when his heart of flesh would be revealed—for that might signal further hope for one side of the divide to be bridged.
I do not know this man other than assuming he is a Dallas police officer. I do not know his name, or his connection to those police officers murdered in Dallas. His anonymity highlights his everyman quality ever more, a “white” man listening to a “black” man addressing the bigotry that is endemic in all of us.
This police officer clapped politely, clapped with enthusiasm, stood and clapped alongside the rest of the audience and did not join in the clapping. There was though the moment—the moment his face revealed his heart of flesh. Twenty-five minutes into his talk, President Obama got to the heart of the matter—an analysis of what underlies the racial divide in our country and how that impacts race relations between police and people on the streets.
President Obama: “As a society, we choose to underinvest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. [The audience claps but not the police officer]. We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. [The audience claps loudly and the police officer semi-claps]. We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book. [The audience claps loudly and the police officer does not]. And then we tell police, “You’re the social worker; you’re the parent; you’re the teacher; you’re the drug counselor.[ The police officer is nodding affirmatively] We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs and do so without creating any political blowback.” [The police officer responds with significant facial and body movement].
President Obama touched this police officer. He found a way in, a way to resonate with this officer’s experience, with his fears, with his sense of injustice—toward him.
President Obama has six months left to help heal the divide. His call for our understanding that black lives do matter (“But even those who dislike the phrase Black Lives Matter surely should be able to hear the pain of Alton Sterling’s family, insist that his life matters”) and that blue lives do matter, that we must examine and own our racism, that we must deal with the sources of the divide—it is not just racial differences but income and opportunity inequality that fuels the divide and fuels fear and demonization. We must make sure that President Obama’s words were not spoken in vain. Stone can be transformed into heart tissue and a nation can heal its divide.
What practical steps can you and I take to heal this divide? Please share your stories of how you reach out to police officers, how you connect with people of other races and social classes, how you protest and get politically active and insist that all lives matter?
by Dr. David Sanders “Tears are the evidence of our inner life overflowing its boundaries, spilling over into consciousness. Wordless and spontaneous, they release us to the possibility of realignment, reunion, catharsis, intractable resistance short-circuited.”