Erika D. Smith

No justice, no peace, no patience

A Dallas police officer receives a hug at the headquarters on Friday. Five police officers are dead and several injured following a shooting in downtown Thursday night.
A Dallas police officer receives a hug at the headquarters on Friday. Five police officers are dead and several injured following a shooting in downtown Thursday night. The Associated Press

One of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King Jr., the one I turn to in times like these, when the whole world seems topsy-turvy with hate, is this: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Change – real change, lasting change – takes time. I truly believe that.

Yet, as I watch police officers bravely running toward a sniper’s bullets on live TV and a black man bleeding to death on Facebook, I worry that patience is no longer a virtue that this country possesses. Patience seems like an old-fashioned notion – like kindness and trusting the government to implement change – that’s on its way out.

I cringe at how unyielding and impatient Americans have become. The very idea of waiting one more week, much less one more month, for justice – racial justice, economic justice, social justice – has seemingly become too much to bear.

We see it with protesters shutting down highways shouting “no justice, no peace.” We see it with students demanding that university presidents resign immediately. We see it with laid-off manufacturing workers demanding that the president rip up international trade deals.

At its unconscionable worst, that kind of impatience looks a lot like what happened in Dallas on Thursday night. It looks a lot like revenge.

It looks like Micah Johnson, the black Army Reserve veteran who killed five police officers and wounded seven others during an otherwise peaceful rally for Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, both shot to death by police last week.

Unlike the Black Lives Matter protesters marching through downtown Dallas, talking amiably with cops despite their own desire for justice for Castile and Sterling, Johnson embarked on his own brand of unwanted vigilante justice.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown tried to explain it on Friday, hours after police killed Johnson with a robot-delivered bomb.

“He said he was upset about the recent police shootings,” Brown said. “The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”

Johnson wasn’t alone in his thinking either.

In Tennessee, a black man opened fire on a highway early Thursday, killing one person and wounding three others, including a police officer, all of them white. Questioned about it, authorities say the man, Lakeem Keon Scott, confessed to being mad at cops for shooting black people.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in a news conference Friday, urged Americans to “not let this week become a new normal.” She’s right, we can’t. For the soul of our country, we can’t.

We have to find some bit of kindness and understanding for each other. Especially, one on one.

But, as country, we also must find a better way to defuse and redirect the kind of explosive anger that’s brewing out there. People of all races and ethnicities must feel as if they can go through the system to achieve change and justice. They must feel like their patience will eventually be rewarded.

Black people, my people, must feel like if we get pulled over for something minor as a broken taillight that we won’t get killed trying to hand the officer our driver’s license.

Too often, that’s not the case.

Consider, it has been almost two years since Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Mo., and the police officer who killed him, Darren Wilson, was shuttled off the force in shame, but never indicted.

Since then, we’ve had Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Samuel Dubose, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland and hundreds of other questionable deaths that never made headlines.

Then, within a matter of hours last week, Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge, La., by police while an officer was sitting on his chest, holding his arms. The confrontation was caught on camera from two different angles.

A day later, Castile was killed, sitting his car with his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter. The bloody aftermath, which made me cry, was broadcast to the world on Facebook Live. Not surprisingly, it prompted immediate condemnations and protests.

In some ways, it’s easy to say not much has changed since Brown was killed. Just last Thursday, The Washington Post released data showing the number of people shot by police is up compared to last year.

But things have changed.

More police have been prosecuted for questionable shootings, even if maddeningly few of them have been convicted. The U.S. Department of Justice has been quicker to investigate police departments for civil rights abuses – and force police departments to changes their ways when such violations are found.

The Chicago Police Department was forced to make major reforms after the shooting of Laquan McDonald and accusations of a cover-up that went all the way up to the mayor’s office.

Here in California, Attorney General Kamala Harris swore in the new Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board, a diverse group who will help root out bias in policing.

A lot of this is thanks to the prodding of Black Lives Matter activists, who have marched peacefully and relentlessly to make sure allegations of police brutality remain a priority. That can't stop.

Things are changing, if slowly. Patience may be out of fashion, but it’s what we need if we’re ever going to achieve justice.