Dallas, TX (TFC) –Dallas was inevitable.
I woke this morning to the news that there were five dead and seven wounded after a shooting in Dallas. I wasn’t shocked; I was hardly even surprised. It seems like every day in America, there is some shooting, some mass murder. As Malcolm X said in the 1960’s, “violence is as American as cherry pie,” and that certainly has not changed in the intervening period of time. When I learned that the victims in this case were police officers, I was still utterly unsurprised. It was, sadly, only a matter of time.
I woke this morning with the intention of writing about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. My point, in that piece, was to contrast their slayings by police with the recent extrajudicial police killings in the Phillipines. If people can be killed on the street without trial, I was going to argue, why bother with legal proceedings at all? We can simply elect a strongman dictator and allow the police to act as judge, jury, and executioner. My goal was to show the inherent immorality of such a system, how such a system is inherently prone to abuse, and how it would only lead to civil unrest and increased violence.
Well, apparently, that point is now abundantly clear.
Regardless of how you look at it, this event in Dallas was an act of terrorism. Terrorism defined:
the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.
This was, from what information we have now, an act of political violence. From Reuters:
During lengthy negotiations with police, the gunman said he had wanted to kill white people and white police officers and was angry about the recent shootings. He cited the “Black Lives Matter” anti-police-violence movement, but also said he was not part of a larger organization, said Dallas Police Chief David Brown.
I would argue that this was a terrorist that was committing political violence in order to protest systemic violence, specifically, the violence of police officers around the country against individuals, the majority of which are people of color, the poor, and the mentally ill.
This shooter was the initiator of violence in Dallas. There are some who will argue he was defending his community against systemic violence; this is not an argument I will make. I feel no joy at the killing of these police officers. They were – like the 558 people who have been killed by police thus far in 2016 – parents, siblings, friends, spouses, loved ones, to someone. Their lives did indeed matter. But this does not change the fact that this event was utterly predictable given the context of the United States in 2016.
Certain communities have always been aware of systematic police violence. This is nothing new. However, since the advent of social media, since we all have video cameras on our person at all times, and since the 24 hour news cycle has been open for all to see, there is an increased and immediate awareness throughout the country and the world about the scope of the problem. Protest movements like Black Lives Matter and others have risen in the last few years to demand reform; these demands have fallen on deaf ears. The Fifth Column’s Justin King published this article just yesterday, discussing how the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (and Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland, and on and on) could have been avoided by an increased level of quality police training. In addition, we could change the focus of policing to higher levels of civil community involvement and the de-escalation of potentially dangerous situations. We can de-militarize police, and we can screen our police forces to make sure that the individual officers are psychologically prepared for duty and ready to truly serve the communities in the conduct of their duty. We can be sure that independent investigations are fairly conducted by third parties in order to guarantee public trust. There are many solutions.
Sadly, none of these solutions have been implemented – and so public trust has eroded to the point where we have Dallas, and Chris Dorner before Dallas.
The old cliched protest slogan “No Justice, No Peace” is not simply some old saw, but in fact a dire warning to us all. Without justice, there can be no peace. If you ignore peaceful demands for justice, eventually someone will pick up a gun and begin shooting people, and then, out of fear or feeling emboldened, others will as well. This could have been avoided easily by a reform of American policing. Of course, the actions of this shooter – and the shooters yet to come – are their own. Ultimate responsibility resides solely on them, and that goes for the police officers who killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile as well. But until we address the root issues – systemic violence against oppressed communities and a culture of violence – we will absolutely continue to see this cycle of destruction continue, and none of us will be safe. If there is to be peace, there must first be justice.