Can we sit down, talk to each other?

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By JESSICA FRASER
Reporter

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — From Crispus Attucks to Trayvon Martin, the shooting of young black men has had a dramatic impact on the stability of our nation. In 1770, it turned a minor squabble between American colonists and British soldiers into a revolutionary battle cry. Two hundred years later, the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling reignited the Black Lives Matter movement and brought protesters and police officers together in heated standoffs.

When an African-American sniper killed five police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest, the last thing anyone wanted to do was talk. But in the wake of the Dallas shootings, one UCM student wanted to find meaning in a series of senseless tragedies.

As the media descended on active protests and Americans chose sides, senior digital media production major Briana Blocker started looking for reasons to bring people together.

“There was a lot of back and forth on social media and a lot of people were talking about their frustrations, but nobody was actually trying to do anything to make the situation better,” Blocker said. “So I was at home one day jotting down ideas that I would want to see take place on my campus, and then I reached out to Alicia Bowman…she suggested that I talk to President (Chuck) Ambrose.”

Within weeks of their initial conversation, Blocker’s talk with President Ambrose led to a campuswide discussion about race and privilege. The All Lives Matter? events may have ended, but the ongoing dialogue between student leaders and police officers can heal the pain that many felt after the tragic deaths of seven innocent people.

For some protestors, anger is easier to stomach than a conversation with their enemies. The fault lines of racial injustice run deep, especially in America, where prejudice was written into the U.S. Constitution and institutional racism destroyed the lives of black Americans long after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Like any American who feels they are being oppressed, the protestor’s natural instincts compel them to stand up instead of sitting down and talking with their oppressors.

Police officers face the same conflict, because as men and women who pledged their lives to protect and serve the American public they feel they have the right to survive. If a suspect makes threatening movements that could prevent them from seeing their children grow up, they shouldn’t have to discuss their response with the media and a mob of angry protesters.

Despite the challenges, Black Lives Matter supporters and police officers are looking for ways to find common ground. Rich Lockhart, police chief for the city of Warrensburg, said he is committed to reaching across the aisle.

“My first day on the job I saw that in somebody’s eyes on the very first call I went on, because they prejudged me because I was a white police officer in a blue uniform,” Lockhart said. “I have experienced that over the last 26 years numerous times, so I understand that it’s about working to try and gain that trust and respect.”

With more than 20 years of service as a Kansas City, Missouri, police officer, Lockhart said he is interested in building relationships between the community and the Warrensburg Police Department.

“What I try to do is I try to show people that I’m respectful of who they are. I’m not going to ask them to look like me, act like me, speak like me or be like me. I want you to be you.”

Blocker also said there should be more dialogue between black college students and the police.

“We need to start by having a conversation, talking to people and getting to know one another, there should be no reason that I should be living here (and) not knowing who the people are who are supposed to protect us,” Blocker said.

Both sides agree dialogue is an important step in healing the divide between the police and the black community, but dialogue won’t erase the history of injustice that continues to separate them. Dialogue can only address problems and allow both parties to move forward in agreement. Dialogue brings up difficult issues about who we are as individuals and who we are perceived to be, whether we carry a badge or we pick up a picket sign. When discrimination prevents us from being able to see clearly, dialogue lays all of our problems and prejudices out in the open for others to see.

But without dialogue, we will never be able to transition from outrage to mutual understanding. President Ambrose said he supported Blocker’s efforts because open dialogue allows students to make progress on an issue that has plagued our country for generations

“It is a struggle that many people committed themselves to during the civil rights movement, but it’s a struggle that still continues,” Ambrose said. “This generation of students are the ones that the torch has been passed to.”

If we continue that struggle, we may be able to turn the recent wave of violence into a catalyst for peace. As the families and friends of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and five Dallas police officers mourn the deaths of their loved ones, we can honor their sacrifice by engaging in honest conversations. Racism and hatred have propelled the Black Lives Matter movement into the global arena, but kindness, compassion and empathy can bridge the racial divide that has haunted this country since its inception and segregated Americans along lines of class and color.