Little Steps to a Complex Problem in a Binary World

An attempted coup d’état in the Philippines which had the violence raging close enough that we could hear the exchange of gunfire with the naked ear followed months later with the first Gulf War was my first experience of violence that affected a society and inspired, within me, a need to make sense of what was going on.  In a vacuum that was television at the time, without the assistance of social media and 24 hour news networks, these conflicts were not as visceral, graphic, or real time as they would be today. However as I watched the nightly news broadcasts and read the newspapers, I was fortunate to have a group of adults comprised mainly of my parents, teachers, and family friends to help make sense and provide different perspectives of what was going on.

As I watched the horror unfold last week where two civilians were killed in police-involved situations and five police officers were murdered while monitoring a peaceful protest I was struck but two things:

  1. The burning desire and need for news outlets and social media to find a binary reason of why this happened and who is to blame.
  2. My emotions as they moved through stages of disgust, anger, sadness, helplessness, confusion, and the need to work on solutions to the immediate issue and the problem as a whole.

By my calculus this is not an issue of good cops vs bad cops, black lives vs white lives, gun possession vs the taking away of guns, or victims vs perpetrators. It encompasses all of these aspects and taking one side or one issue does not begin to examine the underpinnings of the larger picture. So far this year approximately 500 people have been killed in police related activities. Last year alone 94 cops were killed in the line of duty, a majority of those deaths involved guns. In contrast in England over the last FOUR years, 1 person was killed by a cop and last year 2 cops were killed in the line of duty. England and the United States have a very different history with race, policing, and the pervasiveness of guns in society as a whole. I think that any conflict that has a gun (or any weapon) present always has the potential of ending in violence and death.

This leads me to the second point, for me being a man of color I am a victim of certain circumstances when it comes to racial profiling, job related issues, and interpersonal relationships. However, I am a perpetrator as well when I sit back and don't speak up or help the younger generation understand how we as a society need to take responsibility for our actions and be a part of the solution rather than look to who is to blame for our problems. I've been pulled over by the police in Oregon, California, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, and DC.  Regardless of if I was in the wrong or not, I have never felt my life was in danger, been handcuffed, never been arrested, or been treated with disrespect.  This was not because I was lucky to get the "good" cops, but rather because the vast majority of officers on the police force doing their jobs, like most of society as I know it, when treated with respect do the same in kind.

How does any of this have any import to DCFYI?  As an adult who has attained a certain level of life experience and perspective I struggle with putting what has happened in perspective while dealing with what seems to be a mix of impotent rage and despair.  As young adults who have had to deal with hardship, the kind I never experienced at their age, I can only begin to imagine the difficulties DCFYI teens have wrapping their minds around what is going on.  I find myself fighting a battle with them regarding a simmering anger toward authority and a sense of hopelessness and anger for what they see on TV, Facebook, and the Internet because what is sensationalized is the worst moments and this becomes the overriding narrative and generalization.  As adults who volunteer with DCFYI, we are in a unique position to help make sense and bring perspective to difficult situations like this or the more banal ones of everyday life to a forgotten generation of these United States, our kids in foster care.

My heart goes out to the families of the cops who were killed, the victims who were killed by the cops, and the family of the man who decided to take it upon himself to kill cops during a peaceful protest. We as a society need to work together to fix this issue. DCFYI affords me the opportunity to strive to understand and help where I can, when I can, and foster a dialog that forces people to, at the bare minimum, work through ideas, feeling, and thoughts through dialog.  Our kids are part of the generation that will carry us forward into the future, and if we are able to surround them with more adults who care as much as our volunteers, and build a community of peers like the one we continue to build, even at times as dark and confusing as these, the future we work towards looks a little brighter than it did last week.

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