BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON | JUL 18
John Korsmo, Lincoln NE, said it pretty well on Facebook after the killing of police in Dallas:
“There isn’t enough room on people’s timelines to address all of the ridiculous things people are doing. I may be wrong but it seems like there is more unrest than I can ever remember in my lifetime. May just be how prevalent social media is too but just this last couple months has been very disheartening.”
I don’t know John. I don’t know if he can be called “an average American” but he expresses a bewilderment and frustration that most Americans must feel about events and behavior over which we have no control but have a profound effect on our lives.
It is more than the last couple of months, though. Many of us have been shaking our heads, wringing our hands, getting angry, and shedding tears for a couple of years now, despondent over behavior unbecoming a nation and a civilized society, a society that we thought had graduated beyond this.
The cruelest reality in America is the eruption of racial tensions; the five dead police officers in Dallas, another seven wounded, a woman dead and three wounded, including a policeman in Bristol, TN. Two more police ambushed in Georgia and Missouri, police shot at in Washington DC. Now, three more ambushed police officers dead in Baton Rouge, LA and another one fighting for his life, another two wounded. Based on figures in the Wall Street Journal, 31 police officers have been shot and killed this year, nearly double last year and already well above the historical averages. It is July.
Those tragedies are juxtaposed against the most recent shootings of black civilians on the streets of Falcon City, MN and Baton Rouge; other violent deaths in New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland, Charleston, Orlando, Ferguson, and Miami, all the deaths of black civilians.
With all have come screaming headlines, the cruel exploitation of public emotions, Internet incitement, public angst, and a phalanx of politicians who have perfected the art of cut and paste, boiler-plate reactions. These events are exacerbated by the revival of deadly and dangerous vigilante justice– accusing, trying, and convicting people in the streets, and making instant judgments about victims and villains as though the rule of law had no meaning or at best very selective application.
There is no shortage of opinions or ideas, when it comes to dealing with racial tension.
Most of us don’t have answers that stand up the crises we now face or their root causes. I just believe finding those answers would be aided by three fundamentals to finding solutions, which conveniently conform to an alliteration: Facts, Faith, and Focus.
First stop is the facts.
As John suggested, most people are probably not sure if conditions are as bad as perceptions make them out to be. You can’t deny the enormity of the deaths in the streets or the anger and hatred they express, but we really do not know the true length and breadth of the racial divide in this country or its legitimate dimensions, or its root causes. Have we been unduly influenced by social media, news bias, and the noisemakers, most of whom have an ulterior motive in fomenting agitation? Or have we as a society become complacent and blind to realities of racism we thought were part of our past, no longer a chronic problem in what so many of us believed was a “post-racial America?”
It’s tough to know. There’s plenty of information, but how much of it is junk? Getting the information right, getting the facts straight, sorting out the subjective and the selective, and assessing the sources on which we depend are all essential to drawing honest conclusions. Unfortunately, maybe tragically, most Americans don’t have the simple advantage of access to an honest and complete reservoir of facts and information from which knowledge is formed.
Instead, average citizens are being bombarded with misinformation, contradictory “facts” and figures, opinions and commentaries telling us we are racist, no we’re not it just looks that way; crime is going up, no down, no staying the same; cops are killing more innocent victims; no they’re not. People are angry and vengeful, no they are disillusioned, no sad and heartbroken, no hoping for the best, thinking positive. More white people are racist, no they’re not. Black people are racists, no, not true. We can’t even define the terms of the discussion. What is personal racism? What is systemic? What is institutional? What is structural? Are there degrees of racism that we must differentiate? How does one judge oneself?
Instant misperceptions, not reality, shape our feelings and drive our decisions and our actions. Facts have become incidental and they are fed to us selectively, not to enlighten but to reinforce a point of view. Misinformation is a currency that regrettably is more available and more valuable than knowledge.
Just last week a new study was released upending more of our preconceived notions. A black Harvard professor, confirmed through his research that, as President Obama has insisted, police treatment of blacks in the exercise of criminal justice is actually more severe and discriminatory than for whites. But, as the President probably would not have guessed, when the results were in on shootings, the study found no racial bias. “It is the most surprising result of my career,” the author said. There you have it, another body of befuddling research to keep us wondering where truth lies.
We all need to be educated, really educated about the human conditions and circumstances playing out on our television screens and cell phones. The lack of knowledge has become a lethal vacuum, in which in order to reinforce our own preconceived notions, we pick and choose the facts and information. It makes it harder for us to look each other in the eye.
We must find common ground on which to engage and we will never find our way to that common ground if we don’t have the knowledge to enable us to see with one set of eyes. With adequate knowledge, we could discover that the common ground we share is wider than we ever thought and fertile enough to sow resolution.
Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff. He is currently a principal with the OB-C Group.