As a career educator and Color Brave woman, I am struggling to find any sense in the recent events in our nation and world.
I don’t know enough yet to think I have a full understanding of these situations, so I’m living in cognitive dissonance. And it’s an OK place to be.
There are so many shootings, it’s hard not to see them as the same. But I don’t know that they are.
The man shot selling CDs, Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, La., had a long criminal record, and many of the crimes were of the battery and sexual-offender nature. This doesn’t mean his actions on this day warranted being killed. But I also think that the event is not as clear as any side says took place in those few split seconds with this man.
The man in the car, Philando Castile of Falcon Heights, Minn., who announced his gun and license to carry, did exactly what he was supposed to do in that situation: announce this to the police officer first, and follow the officer’s directions. Although he did this, the officer shot him four times. I don’t know that this situation was like the first.
This man was an honorable man, serving our children meals every day in a school cafeteria. He made sure our kids are fed. My daughter, too, is fed every day by folks just like him.
I’ve worked quite a bit with peace officers as an educator. Those I have had the honor of working with are good men and women. They are not prejudiced and absolutely not quick to use any kind of force. This is my experience and shapes my mental model. Also, my personal, positive interaction and treatment by officers clearly shapes my perspective.
My thoughts, experiences and media exposure collide into a jumbled murky dissonance in the light of recent exposé like Oakland Police Department and these shootings, Dallas, and the “suicide” in the Atlanta park.
What I can say is this:
▪ I don’t believe these events are a new experience. I think social media allows us to see more of it; and now we witness it as it happens, which was not possible on a national scale before this point in social media.
▪ I don’t believe we can say each of these situations is the same. Different cops, different civilians, different settings. But so much of it happens now they are lumped together by most.
▪ Life was ended in these instances. Opportunity to learn, heal, grow was ended.
▪ Media has a new power – an instant power – that brings these voices of outrage together that our previous generations did not have. This is new.
▪ The killing, incarceration and annihilation of the American black man is brought to our awareness again but is not new. This is the ultimate tragedy, I believe.
▪ I do firmly believe this nation is not “being ripped apart”; it is ripped apart. The election, shootings, poverty divide, refugee crisis: all of these illuminate the already existing state of this country.
The only thing I’ve ever witnessed to actually bring people together and to truly communicate (wherein people can really listen to one another) is in relationship. Build relationships with others not like ourselves. This builds people up together, rather than more tearing apart.
Finally, I am struggling to find the balance of horror and hope as I explain this to my daughter. I’m not sugarcoating it. These events are horrific. And we must talk about them together. There is no hiding or avoiding this. We will talk. We will explore. We will cry. We will grow. We will know that life is precious and we honor, respect, and love all of our neighbors as ourselves.
Not color blind. Color Brave.
Lauren Lemons Odell of Sacramento is a former administrator for the Fresno Unified School District.