It has been a hard week for the Dallas – Fort Worth area, as Micah Johnson, a black, former military reservist, shot and killed five Dallas police officers, apparently in response to shootings involving police officers and African-Americans in Minnesota and Louisiana. In all, Johnson killed five officers and wounded seven others, along with two civilians. Johnson claimed he hated white people, especially police officers, and decided to do something about it. The carnage finally ended when Dallas police detonated a robot armed with explosives, killing Johnson.
Now it is time for us to do something about it. According to The Washington Post, 509 people have been shot by police in the United States so far this year. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the Dallas shootings brought the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty so far in 2016 to 56. So what can we do to stop this? There are no easy answers. No doubt there are police officers of every race and ethnicity who abuse the power of their badges. No doubt there are bad actors of every race and ethnicity who are a menace to society and who the police rightfully should be wary of. But the continued killing of African-Americans and police officers only breeds fear, which will lead to more shootings – and more deaths.
“I hate white people,” reminds me of an experience I had in high school. I was talking with friends in the hall when my drama teacher walked by. She overheard me commenting that I “hated” a certain person. She stopped, turned to me, and pointed a finger at my nose and said, “There is no person in this world that you hate. If you think you feel that way, it is only because you don’t know that person well enough. If you would make the effort to get to know them, where they are coming from and why they do what they do, you might not end up being best friends, but you will at least end up respecting them for who they are.” Could improving race relations be as simple as that?
Movies have taken on race relations for many years, and I have learned important lessons from them. Here are three of them:
1. Always try to see the circumstances from the other person’s viewpoint, or as Atticus Finch would say in To Kill a Mockingbird, don’t make judgments until you have walked around in another person’s shoes for a while. A Time to Kill* is the story of a young lawyer’s defense of a black man accused of murdering two men who raped his 10-year-old daughter. Here is a great scene from the movie that reminds us look at situations from a different perspective:
2. Never let peer pressure or social status influence how you really feel about someone. The Help** is set during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and through the eyes of an aspiring writer, focuses on African-American maids who work for white families. Incredibly, those white families allowed their African-American maids to essentially raise their children, but won’t allow them to use the same toilets as they do. Here is one of my favorite scenes from the movie:
3. A person should be judged on who they are, not the color of their skin. This lesson is taught well in a locker room scene near the end of Remember the Titans***, the true story of a newly-appointed African-American high school football coach dealing with the first year of racial integration of the school:
None of us individually will be able to solve the issues of race facing this country. But each of us can make a contribution by better understanding those we come in contact with each day, regardless of their color, ethnicity, religious affiliations, or political beliefs. Graeme Edge of the Moody Blues (yes, I’m that old), said it better than I could in his poem, The Balance. Notice he starts by looking at what he might have done to others, not what others had done to him:
And he thought of those he’d angered For he was not a violent man. And he thought of those he’d hurt For he was not a cruel man. And he thought of those he’d frightened For he was not an evil man. And he understood. He understood himself. Upon this, he saw that when he was of anger Or knew hurt or felt fear, It was because he was not understanding. And he learned compassion And with his eye of compassion, He saw his enemies like unto himself. And he learned love.
Let’s be compassionate about becoming part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Maybe an easy place to start is by watching – and thinking about – movies that deal candidly with race. Here, in no particular order, are a baker’s dozen of my favorites:
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- The Help
- Remember the Titans
- A Time to Kill
- 12 Years a Slave
- Fruitvale Station
- Gran Torino
- In the Heat of the Night
- Malcolm X
- The Long Walk Home
The world needs less fear, and a lot more more understanding; less anger, and a lot more respect; less hate, and a lot more love. Let’s not let race divide us, for all lives matter.
*A Time to Kill
Production: Regency Enterprises and Warner Bros. Directed: Joel Schumacher Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman (adapted from the novel by John Grisham) Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson Release date: July 26, 1996
Production: Dreamworks SKG, Reliance Entertainment, Participant Media Directed: Tate Taylor Screenplay: Tate Taylor (adapted from the novel by Kathryn Stockett) Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer Release date: August 10, 2011
***Remember the Titans
Production: Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Run It Up Productions Inc., Technical Black, Walt Disney Pictures Directed: Boaz Yakin Screenplay: Gregory Allen Howard Starring: Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Wood Harris Release date: September 29, 2000