It's been a difficult week in America.
The Dallas shootings topped off a week of horror, injustice, and outrage. It's been akin to watching a car crash happen in slow motion: the growing dread, and then sick terror upon watching the destruction and death.
None of us can be surprised. We've been amongst myriad issues careening towards each other for some time, without doing a lot about it.
When you leave a pot alone on the stove, you can't act surprised when it finally boils over. And when it does happen, it happens quickly, and makes a huge mess.
Let's rewind the tape and try to get a sense of how this monstrous car crash came about.
Delrawn Small was shot to death in Brooklyn by an off duty cop, Wayne Isaacs, in a road rage incident.
Isaacs killed Small in front of his children.
Alton Sterling was shot to death in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for selling CDs outside of a convenience store. Police were filmed pinning him to the ground, and executing him when they found a gun.
Sterling had made no move towards the firearm and, as this was an Open Carry State, was well within his rights to possess it.
Philando Castile was shot to death in Minnesota over a broken tail-light. The police killed him in front of his four-year-old child while his girlfriend recorded the whole thing.
He worked as a cafeteria supervisor, and in Minnesota, you can't hold a job in a school if you have a criminal record.
He was a legal, licensed gun owner, who informed the police he was carrying, but they executed him when he reached for his identification.
These three incidents happened in roughly a 72-hour span.
"For white people it's called 'Open Carry.' For black people it's called 'Oh my God, he's got a gun! He's got a GUN! HE'S GOT A GUN!'" - Jessica Williams
I've never been afraid of the cops. I've mouthed off at them a lot. A lot. I've been openly annoyed with them when they've pulled me over, even when I knew I deserved to be.
I've yelled at cops for arresting one of my drunk friends when he was an idiot in the same bar that had called them to come deal with him.
I've lied to them that my passenger had a seat belt on when he didn't, while I had a joint in the cigarette pack in my pocket.
Was I living dangerously? No. I am a white man.
Simply put, Black Americans cannot afford to act like this.
If you are pulled over while black; if you're selling single cigarettes while black; if you dare to talk back to a cop while black; if you carry a gun while black; if you carry a TOY gun while black; if you walk towards the police, away from the police, don't look at the police, or make eye contact with the police while black, you may pay for it with your life.
Eric Garner. Mike Brown. Freddie Gray. Tamir Rice.
Ferguson. Baltimore. New York City.
For two years it's been made obvious to the entire country that Black Americans are insulted, assaulted, arrested, put down, patted down, maimed, mocked, jailed, killed, dismissed, and disappeared at a rate that would have white people screaming in terror constantly.
If I were going through this, if I had to watch my family and friends go through this, I would never stop breaking shit. And I say this as a white man, with only the barest glimmer of what black people are getting put through.
"This is what black people are trying to explain to you. There is a danger. It is real. It is scary. We don't feel safe. We want to feel safe. Listen to us when we are telling you about our experience. There is a reason why the NAACP, and other organizations exist.
The reality is different for me, here in this country as a person of color. Stop refusing to acknowledge that these fears, and dangers exist." - Crystal Michelle
The thing about racism is it's a construct that black people didn't create. It was thrust upon them by white people.
And before the deniers start up, yes racism does not only affect black people. Put down your #AllLivesMatter sign and try to understand this issue.
Racism has long been used for political benefit in America. The reason America became so big and so rich was in no small part due to slavery and the subjugation of black people. It's amazing how quickly your economy can boom when you have actual slave labor.
Don't write this fact off by saying, "Well that was a long time ago," or, "I didn't do that," because that's simply refusing to understand the plight of your fellow Americans, and where that came from.
Until we actually deal with racism and admit the benefits that white folks have received from it, the issue will only fester and get worse. And that's on us, on me, on all other white folks, that don't want to admit our own personal bigotries. We all have them.
White Americans created this problem for Black Americans. We need to be accountable for that, and work to alleviate it.
This is why #BlackLivesMatter. The message is not that Black Lives are the ONLY ones that matter, but to call attention to how little they HAVE mattered historically in this country.
And so protests have grown steadily over the last two years, helped to grow larger by those denying that White Privilege exists.
There's the bare details of one of our metaphorical cars, headed towards the crash. Let's look at the other.
Police officers in America have a dangerous, difficult, and for the most part, thankless job.
I dealt with countless incidents of casual abuse and a few dozen physical assaults during my time in the restaurant industry, either upon me, a co-worker, or random customers fighting each other. So I can't imagine what the cops have to go through.
What would your mentality be like if at any point in your day, you could be faced with someone with a gun? Cops deal with this regularly, and need to expect it constantly.
The police would be foolish not to be heavily armed and prepared for the worst these days.
Don't believe me? Take a walk through Times Square. Or Penn Station. You will see police in full tactical gear carrying automatic firearms. It's a daily occurrence now. Not that long ago, it was unheard of. The arms race on our streets escalates every day.
Yet police are trying to change and not jump to conclusions about Black Americans. Training and re-training is being done in Precincts across the country.
Change is difficult. You can't get society to change instantly. Rather it banks gradually, as a large ship turns.
Just because we condemn the cops that have murdered black people does not mean we shouldn't praise the efforts being made by the majority of our police forces.
Yes, you can support both the police AND Black Lives Matter.
The Dallas Police Department, especially, has made great strides to work with Black Lives Matter protests. They helped plan the July 7th march, de-escalated to only wearing patrol uniforms and carrying pistols, and even posed, smiling, with many of the protestors.
Myriad reports said this march was an especially peaceful one.
When it comes to our car crash metaphor, it seems that the brakes were being pumped. Perhaps the pileup could have been minimized, or even avoided entirely.
That's when somebody started shooting and everyone in the media, mainstream or social, lost their damn minds. The pot boiled over and the cars crashed spectacularly in front of the entire world.
That brings us to the catalyst of this horror: guns. America is awash in guns.
Bad gun laws in one State undercut good gun laws in another. The National Rifle Association relentlessly works to de-regulate firearms, and they've been very successful at this in Red States, Texas especially.
Now, the idea here is that a good guy with a gun is supposed to stop the bad guy with a gun. A criminal will be scared away from trying anything if the general populace is known to be carrying firearms.
That's not how it worked in Dallas.
Instead, police were cut down by superior firepower. Confusion reigned over who was a good guy and who was not.
In their biggest mistake of the night, Dallas PD tweeted out a picture of a black man carrying an AR-15, calling him a "Person of Interest."
Because he had a rifle and, let's face it, was black, he was immediately painted as a suspect all over television news and social media.
He not only turned out to be completely innocent, but illustrated the folly of NRA talking points all by himself.
He did nothing to deter the shooter from committing the attack. He did nothing to deter the shooter to break off the attack once it commenced. He was not a good guy with a gun, he only added to the mess. And he put the lie to how Open Carry is supposed to work while he was at it.
The shooter himself, who will not be named, was a military veteran who, although saying he wasn't part of Black Lives Matter, expressed a strong desire to kill white cops. It is a fair guess to say he suffered from PTSD, but this does not at all excuse him for the murders he committed.
Further speculation on his motivations would be irresponsible at this juncture, but the simple facts are that he was well armed, very well trained, dressed in tactical gear, and brought a massive amount of ammunition along with his rage.
The cops never had a chance when he ambushed them, and thanks to those Open Carry laws, they couldn't have done anything about him until he started shooting anyway. Just how the NRA wants it.
That's how a military veteran, angry at white cops, took a rifle that would literally outgun them to a high vantage point and rained down fire and death so successfully.
The NRA has fought hard that he have the ability to do this, right up until he pulled the trigger, because that's when the mythical "good guy with a gun" is supposed to appear and take him down.
In this case, the "good guy" turned out to be a robot with explosives.
The NRA even released a video three days previously, showing how a mass shooting could be committed. Although it now looks like they were providing an instruction manual to future murderers, the NRA will say they did it to show "law abiding responsible gun owners" how to protect themselves.
This is where you should remember that two of the black victims of police shootings that inspired this protest in the first place were legally carrying firearms.
Their guns not only failed to protect them, but hastened their deaths. The NRA has not said a word about them at the time of this writing.
The NRA has been complicit for the proliferation of guns in our society. They are even openly dictating gun laws in Arizona, while Mitch McConnell refuses to hold hearings on a new Supreme Court justice unless the gun lobby approves of the nomination.
Laws like Open Carry, or the frightening Constitutional Carry, which requires neither a permit nor training to own a gun, are becoming more prevalent in the nation. So it's not surprising that cops have their fingers on triggers.
You can thank the NRA for contributing to this war zone atmosphere.
Even worse, these Open/Concealed/Constitutional Carry laws don't apply to black people far too often.
A white man can Open Carry at Target in some States, but a black man who open carries will BE a target in ALL States.
Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy, was gunned down by cops in less than two seconds in an Open Carry State for playing with a pellet gun. White men pointed loaded rifles at law enforcement officers during the Bundy Ranch standoff and are all still alive.
When a black man is killed by police, the media scrambles to find his mug shot. When Brock Turner was convicted of rape, the media posted how fast his swim times were.
Telling a black man to respect the police so he doesn't get shot in this environment is like telling a woman to not dress sexy so she doesn't get raped.
That's how a black veteran became so lost in hate and fear that he killed police officers that were acting in the best, most professional manner that they could have been doing.
Killing an innocent black man is wrong.
Killing an innocent police officer is wrong.
Killing. Is. Wrong.
Letting the fringe elements of the NRA dictate our laws has enabled the war zone mentality between both Black Americans (or in NRA vernacular "thugs and gangbangers") and the police (aka tyrannical jack-booted government oppressors.)
It's a never ending spiral of hatred, made worse by easily accessible firearms, which make the unspeakable unavoidable, destabilizing America's population of People of Color, and, in turn, the police.
Yeah, conflicting issues smashed together like a car crash, but the NRA helped make the carnage as horrible as possible.
Now that we know how we got here, how do we fix this mess?
1. Be accountable.
Recognize that if you're white, you may not fully realize what black people are going through.
We are a big part of how to ease the nation's pain, and if we reject our responsibility to do so, pretend we have nothing to do with it, or worst of all, try to incite a race war like former Congressman Joe Walsh did, then we are only exacerbating the problems.
Let's be clear: you are not a bad person if you are white.
But you need to be aware of the systemic racism in the country that you have benefitted from, whether you like it or not.
We're coming up on a huge election. The choice shouldn't be hard. One side is trying to make gun law reform happen, help our veterans and the mentally ill, and ease the strain on Americans if they are People of Color. They are trying to eject the fringe elements stopping the nation from going forward.
The other side is a racist billionaire demagogue and the NRA. Both put making money over your life, whether you're black or white. That should be easy math.
This is for everyone on all sides. The police have valid opinions. Black Lives Matter protestors have valid opinions.
Liberals, conservatives, gay, straight, White people, Black people, Latino, Asian, Native American, people of all creeds, races, religions, what have you, have valid opinions. Please listen to what your fellow Americans have to say.
Fear and hatred is born of ignorance. To defeat ignorance, you must acquire knowledge. Once you know how you got to a place, you will then know where to go next.
America has just witnessed a horrible car crash of issues. People were maimed, scarred, and killed. It's natural to feel despair about that. We are, all of us, only human.
But we can fix this. We can move forward. What makes America so great is not that we run and hide from problems, but that we strive to solve them.
All is not lost, we need only refuse to give in to fear.
That is what makes America the Home of the Brave.
"Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are." - Benjamin Franklin[Feature Image Courtesy RT.com]