What We Know Now (part 2)

The month of July 2016 began quietly, with run-of-the-mill news reports and dreams of summer fun. Families looked forward to barbecues and fireworks on the Fourth. Baseball fans marked the upcoming All-Star Game on their calendars. And we were just settling down with a revealing look at our president, Obama After Dark: The Precious Hours Alone, when it all began to unravel. By the middle of the month, an Associated Press article would scream, Bloodshed Fills Headlines, Confronting Public With Anxiety.

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, July 5, a black man who had been selling music CD’s outside a convenience store was shot multiple times by police in Baton Rouge, LA. Cell phone videos revealed questionable law enforcement tactics, and angry protesters took to the streets.

On Wednesday, July 6, on The Nightly Show from the Comedy Central cable TV network, host Larry Wilmore kept it 100 when he said, “Thank God for fucking cell phones ... the punishment for being a black man shouldn’t be death.” The rapper Drake and other prominent members of the black community used social media to also speak out.

Within hours of the taping of Wilmore’s show - and before the show actually aired, yet another shooting occurred.

In a suburb of St. Paul, MN, after her black boyfriend was shot four to five times by police, a young woman used her cell phone to begin live-streaming a running commentary of the incident. Protests in the streets of Minnesota began that night.

Thursday morning, July 7, the New York Times printed an opinion piece by Michael Eric Dyson, an outspoken Georgetown University professor who frequently appears on television and radio shows. In his blistering editorial, Dyson, who is black, said:
“In the wake of these deaths and the protests surrounding them, you, white America, say that black folks kill each other every day without a mumbling word while we thunderously protest a few cops, usually but not always white, who shoot to death black people who you deem to be mostly ‘thugs.’ … That such an accusation is nonsense is nearly beside the point. … It is not best understood as black-on-black crime; rather, it is neighbor-to-neighbor carnage. … If you want interracial killing, you have to have interracial communities.”
That same night, protests were were held throughout the country. In Dallas, Texas, a peaceful protest organized by the Black Lives Matter group, was just breaking up when shots rang out. As events unfolded live on TV, many incorrect details were reported, but in the end five Dallas policemen had been killed and up to 9 others injured by a black sniper who “wanted to kill white officers.”

Apparently, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani had not read Dyson’s article before he appeared on MSNBC on Friday, July 8, and said: “When you talk about Black Lives Matter, well you know, the black young boy who is killed by another black young boy is just as dead as a black young boy who was killed by the police officers.” Progressive commentator John Amato was outraged: “WTF is he talking about? He’s using the excuse of black-on-black crime to justify his complaints against BLM. Crime is one thing, Rudy. That’s what the police force is there to protect us from, not up the body count.”

On Sunday, NAACP President Cornel Brooks “compared the recent killings of black men by police to lynchings during the Civil Rights movement” and urged activists to show up on the street and show up at the polls.

And citizens in Dallas began to rally around their police department, one which "already suffers from low pay and low morale." John Burnett of NPR wrote: "To be fair, this is not just a Dallas problem. Departments all over the country are losing young officers because of pay, workload and the recent challenges of policing in the glare of social media."

A memorial service for the fallen Dallas police officers was held Tuesday, July 12. It was attended by President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President George W. Bush, and their wives. In his remarks, the President said, “I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem. And I know that because I know America. I know how far we’ve come against impossible odds.” The Dallas Morning News called the president’s speech “full of truth, pain and hope.”

And so, for the 11th time in his presidency, Barack Obama spoke words of comfort to those scarred by gun violence. As he has been saying since his days in Springfield, Illinois - the heartland of America - change happens from the bottom up.

And the protests and dialogue and use of new media tools that emanated from these first two sad and ugly weeks of July 2016 are also 'full of truth, pain and hope.'

For a compelling history of the 2008 campaign, as told by news media, politicians, and ordinary people, see King's Dream: Barack Obama Becomes President of the United States of America.