I read a column in the Star Tribune Tuesday morning, written by a guy who must have been around my age. He wrote about the turmoil of our teenage years—60s and early 70s. He mentioned the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. That brought back memories.
When I was in fourth grade President Kennedy was killed. Pretty young, but certainly I knew what happened and am now part of that generation who can answer the question: Where were you when you heard President Kennedy had been killed?
A few years later, in April 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The civil rights movement was being chronicled on television and I was very aware. My family lived in Oklahoma until the spring of 1961. While that is not like the deep south, it is “south” enough that I had seen signs of the discrimination of black people, noticing even as a young child. By 1968, the civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam war were high on the consciousness of most young people.
I have a very vivid memory of my mom coming into my bedroom before she left for work on that June morning in 1968. She told me that Bobby Kennedy had been killed. I was just a kid, only 13. I’m not sure why she woke me up to tell me that. Over the years since it has occurred to me that she just needed to talk to someone—even a kid. The shock of those three killings was just too much. Even for kids.
How are we to react now? The reports of black men being killed by police officers, and the protests that follow, have been in the news now for about two years.
The events of the last week seem to have brought our country to that point of saying it is just too much.
I can’t imagine what it is like to go to work each day knowing that your life is in danger, as police officers do. I saw a story on the news of a little girl whose dad was one of the police officers shot in Dallas. She said that when he kissed her goodby that morning he asked, “What if this were the last time I kissed you goodby?” She said he’d never said anything like that before.
So, how do we react to this long simmering situation? Let our law enforcement people know we appreciate them and support them and understand their job is dangerous and difficult? Really listen to people of color who say they are racially profiled, stopped repeatedly for minor reasons, taught from a young age by their frightened mothers how to respond if stopped by police?
Yes, yes to both. We know that people who enter the law enforcement profession do it for noble reasons. They want to protect all people in their community. What is harder to understand, especially for white people, is the reality lived by people of color. Can we listen and try to understand?
Can we listen and try to understand whenever we hear about beliefs, opinions and experiences that differ from our own? It’s not easy, I’m no different from the next person, I prefer to listen to things I already agree with. But I’ll try, will you?