Head on

Last week, after they had been told by ABC that a forum was being held in Washington, D.C., to discuss race, policing and violence, some participants—such as Black Lives Matter founder Daunasia Yancey and police victim Eric Garner’s daughter Erica—attended but were not permitted to participate in the discussion.

Something similar happened at an NAACP meeting in Reno that same day. When audience members tried to ask Washoe Sheriff Chuck Allen about his position on ballot question 1 (background checks), the audience was told that the meeting was not for “combative” dialogue and the exchange was effectively quashed (see news, page 8).

Interestingly, an audience member later in the meeting called on elected officials to stop being so polite to each other and criticize those officials who duck hard issues.

The NAACP can conduct its events any way it wants, of course, but when people are turning to places other than our polarized, ineffective government for leadership, it’s a tribute to the NAACP that a mostly white audience turned to that organization for guidance. We urge its officers not to waste the opportunity with safe and cautious dialogue. Now is the time to go at these issues head on.

Would direct and candid questions have made the occasion uncomfortable? Yes. But neither Sheriff Allen nor Reno Police Chief Jason Soto are tender orchid blossoms. Both accepted public office knowing there would be difficult times. And if there is ever a time when hard questions should be asked, it is when the nature of law enforcement is being widely questioned and some seem to seek extra-legal remedies against police.

“What I have said is that the data shows that there are disparities in how persons of color and whites are treated in the aggregate,” President Obama has said. “We have to make sure that we don’t pretend that there aren’t potential problems in how communities and police interact.”

If there is anger out there, it needs an outlet other than the one at the end of a gun or rifle barrel. “Shooting police is not a civil rights tactic,” said civil rights leader Jesse Jackson last week. Neither is it a solution to anything, but there do need to be remedies when law enforcement is perceived as not being held accountable. If it is only a perception, it needs to be shown as such in a way the public will understand and accept. If it is not just a perception but reality, it needs to be dealt with. It cannot become a case of black lives versus blue lives.

“It’s coming to the point where no lives matter,” said Joycelyn Jackson, sister of a police officer—a black officer, not that it should matter—killed in Baton Rouge. In truth, blue lives already matter more than other lives. Some states have made killing police officers a death penalty offense. In Nevada, one of the “aggravating circumstances” that can lead to the death penalty is whether the victim was a police officer.

It has become a cliché that “every life is precious,” though it is certainly true. If we get into a competition over the value of lives, it is one more thing that will drive us away from each other—and we already have too many politicians trying to pit us against each other now. Let’s open up discussion of these difficult things.