Windows and Mirrors -Two Signs - Florence Sprague - January 2022
Perhaps you saw it—an editorial page cartoon by Steve Sack in the Star Tribune in the summer of 2020—two houses, two neighbors chatting over the fence, and two signs in one yard. The signs say “Black Lives Matter” and “We Support Our Local Police.” One man is saying to the other man “If you think they conflict maybe it’s you with the problem.” It struck a chord.
I can see why they are so often thought to be orthogonal today. It needn’t be the case.
Perhaps the crux of the conflict comes in the intent behind “support.” For me, support means willingly paying taxes; endorsing a respectful, living wage for all public employees; backing good training for all public safety employees, both before and throughout employment; treating those public safety employees with whom I come into contact with respect, courtesy, and thanks as the situation warrants; and acknowledging the value of the job and the risks it entails.
To me support does not include a blind endorsement of all actions by all individuals. It does not mean being unquestioning of policies, training styles, or practices. I believe the ugly fact that a black man is 2.5 times as likely to die in police custody as a white man (https://live-journalists-resource.pantheonsite.io/politics-and-government/killed-police-black-men-likely-white-men/). I have heard too often that “driving while black” type traffic stops occur far too often. I am appalled that teens are especially vulnerable to harm by police—including girls (https://www.themarshallproject.org/2021/11/02/police-hurt-thousands-of-teens-every-year-a-striking-number-are-black-girls) and that when discretion is possible it is unequally exercised [as between black and white miscreants]. These facts must change.
Citizens and public servants must live within a compact with rules, mutual obligations, and mutual respect. That can only happen in an environment where all parties are willing to examine their own behavior and role in creating and maintaining a positive community environment.
Implicit biases are real. I have them, you have them, we all have them. Humans are sponges that absorb attitudes from their environment. What matters then is what we do about them, and what type of attitudes we strive to pass on.
As a white woman, it is my job to acknowledge and address the subliminal biases that I have absorbed throughout my lifetime. It is my job to seek ways to address the structural biases in the institutions of work, faith, community, and governance with which I engage.
As I write this in December the ice feels very thin under my feet and George Bailey won’t be able to rescue me, so I can only hope that my readers will think about making those two signs harmonize and be our reality.
Human beings are imperfect, but we can improve. We must.
May your new year trend upward on all fronts. Please work to save the planet for the imperfect but much-loved people of all races who inhabit it