After soaking up a week’s worth of sun, fun, and food, my family and I returned home from a Gulf Coast vacation. It was early, but after a 12- hour drive, we were tired. After unloading the car, I departed for bed.
I lit up the DVR to catch a show I missed while out, more out of habit than interest. I brushed my teeth and crawled into the familiar comfort of our bed. Drifting between replaying new family summer memories, satisfied and thankful for being disconnected for the first time in years, and listening with eyes closed to the TV, sleep caught me.
I slid into the deep quiet, the blessed unknowing without a fight on Thursday, July 7 in a suburb 30 miles north of Dallas, Texas.
In the Gray Where Madness Reigned
In the hazy gray between sleep and consciousness, I heard the shouts of a man. He defended his brother.
“My brother surrendered his assault rifle to the police as soon as heard shots fired. He found the first officer and voluntarily gave the officer his gun. He’s licensed to carry.”
The man protested that his brother had nothing to do with the shooting but had been taken into custody by the police for questioning.
The shouting crescendoed with a host of voices, frantic and frightened. Questions were asked and accusations volleyed in return.
I cracked open one eye to see blue-gray shadows dance across the ceiling. I realized that I wasn’t dreaming. The show’s over. The bedroom TV switched to regular programming and the volume doubled on some crime drama. I closed my eye and patted around the bed until I found the remote. Click. Darkness and quiet filled the void and I followed.
At 7:41 AM Friday morning, I punched the news app on my phone to catch up on events since our vacation. A red banner scrolled an alert across the top.
**LIVE: Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and DPD Chief David Brown Update on Police Shootings.
I immediately opened the live stream of the news conference and watched in shock and horror as both men recounted overnight events. It was no TV crime drama that woke me. The fear and anger, the defiant yells and cries of despair were all real. In the shadows, madness reigned.
I learned of the peaceful protest downtown turned nightmare. Five Dallas officers had been killed with 11 injured in total. A lone sniper ambushed the crowd from an elevated position before being cornered in local community college, El Centro. After negotiations broke down, the DPD Chief OK’d the use of a robot to deliver C4 explosive to end the standoff and a madman’s assault on “white people, especially white police officers.”
After the press conference concluded, I switched back to the news app. Two police involved shootings in one week leaving one man in Louisiana, Alton Sterling, and another man, Philando Castille, in a suburb of St. Paul, MN dead. In both incidents, the officers were white and the deceased both African-Americans. I watched the damning cell phone videos.
My head fell. Without knowing, I knew. The Dallas madman retaliated in response to what appeared to be a rise in unjustified police killings of unarmed African-American men.
Frame-by-frame in a ceaseless loop played Michael Brown and Ferguson, MO…a grim reminder of the Watts riots decades before. The shock and sadness of the Charleston shootings in a church near, where as a child, I visited the home of a four or five times great-grandfather which a man had purchased and was renovating as a historical landmark. A Texas sheriff gunned down execution-style while pumping gas. There have been more in the in-between. Now this, now these.
As a former commuter on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail, I remembered the face staring back at me: Brent Thompson, a DART police officer. I never knew his name…until now.
I recalled a conversation between the officer and the passenger standing next to me as we all swayed together with the train as it clicked along the tracks toward home.
It was late and I was tired, too tired to engage in conversation. I listened and looked.
The DART police had a more prominent presence at this hour as the light rail moved north from the downtown station. The poor, homeless, or under-the-substance crowds hopped on and off the rail cars alongside the young and old, professional and blue-collar alike.
Young parents carrying stacks of college texts, in hand or in heavy backpacks strapped to their backs, closed their eyes for a moment’s peace. Occasionally, young children slouched against the comfort of their mom’s or dad’s shoulder drawn to sleep by life and the rhythm of the rail cars.
“I just got engaged,” the smiling officer told the rider in response to a question. I looked back at the officer, smiled and nodded. The officer happened to be white and the rider black. I never noticed…until now.
The Heaven and Hell In Us
The massacre in Dallas and the killings over the last two summers have torn open ancient wounds that have never healed, exposed fresh ones and created a deep chasm in America.
Race relations, policing, 2nd Amendment rights and Open Carry laws and the implications both have in today’s society, over-generalizations and stereotyping on all sides, mental health care and care of our veterans, hatred and divisiveness that drive dialogue and silence in our communities, and many other tough, complex issues keep us restrained in the depths.
I don’t know the answers to these complexities.
In a way, I’ve been blessed. I don’t see or judge a person on the basis of their skin color but simply by their character.
Was my respect of diversity a product of being bused miles away to schools in largely Black communities when there were elementary schools nearer to our home as part of Charlotte’s integration plan in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s?
Was it because I knew poverty growing up, the need for a unified community to help to fight against the equal opportunity destroyer that kept food off the table, bugs scrambling under the bed covers and over our skin once the lights switched off, or a single present under a small, tattered cheap Christmas tree?
Was it the simple faith driven out of weakness and desperation from a strong Christian grandmother who helped raised us that everything, in time, would be made right?
Was it all of this, and more, or was it just me?
Either way, I’m thankful. I can reconcile having both Jesus and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as personal heroes just as easily as I have R&B, Hard Rock, Reggae, Classical, Country, Soul, and Bluegrass pounding out of speakers in our home or counting people of every race, creed, nationality and orientation as friends…whether or not I agree with their views, beliefs, lifestyle, or choices and they, mine.
Maybe I’m a walking anomaly. I don’t believe so.
While I can understand those who do, I’ve never lived in black and white. The world is too colorful and vibrant for such absolutes.
At times when I’ve abandoned it, faith has never abandoned me. Faith is a sustainer and healer. It is a source of strength and unifier, if we let it be.
I’m proud of our city leaders in the wake of this atrocity. I’m especially proud of our mayor, who happens to be white, and our police chief, who happens to be black. These two good men stood united in the face of home-grown destruction and misguided hateful, delusional frustration released as racial terrorism.
Raw, candid comments of the hurt that fills the Dallas Police Department, the city, and this nation were honest and heart-wrenching. They reminded us on any given day, as we run from danger, the brave men and women in police uniform run toward it and are forced to deal with madness, cruelty, and hate.
We didn’t ask them to put their lives before ours. No, we didn’t have to. They do so because serving others is who they are. It’s not just a job. For most, it’s a calling. They do it day and night, 365. These are servant leaders and they are heroes.
How many of us make the right decisions 100% of the time in our jobs and in our lives? With smartphone video and streaming, that’s the reality of modern day policing. They have to make life and death decisions in an instant and they have to be right 100% of the time. That’s the watermark.
Don’t get me wrong. In many ways, I’m thankful for technology. No one gets life right all the time. No man or woman is perfect. A camera tells a story, fills in the blanks and answers questions, at least in part and some.
Yes, there are undesirables in every part of the American society. There’s Heaven and Hell in all of us. The police are not immune to this malady. Their members are human, and by definition, fallible; the dark and sick are in their ranks just as much as they infect all other socio-economic ranks .
However, I wonder if our own lives could withstand the same level of intense scrutiny and high expectations which we demand of the men and women in uniform and badges policing our communities?
I wonder what becomes of the dreams of today’s youth, young girls and boys who want to join the ranks, wear the same badge and swear an oath to uphold the laws of this nation? Will the numbers dwindle under their generation’s higher expectations and harsher scrutiny?
I don’t think so.
As long as Americans have hearts and souls, we’ll have the ranks of the brave who will sacrifice their own lives to protect their communities, to fight for our inalienable rights and freedoms, and serve the greater good.
We are all riders on this train and there is Heaven and Hell in all of us.
My heart and prayers go out to the families of the fallen. The sacrifice of their last watch was not in vain. In the end, as painful as the days are, all will be made right.