Three Lessons from Dallas

Nothing can justify the murder of the policemen in Dallas, but the situation says a lot about relationships in U.S. society.

Five policemen murdered by a sniper – this news shocked the United States. But, it doesn’t leave many in Germany cold, as they are again and again confronted with news of hate and violence from that country. To sort out these events, it helps to view them from three different perspectives.

“It was a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement,” said President Barack Obama. He promised the full employment of investigators to get to the bottom of the attack. From a criminological standpoint, basically everything has been said. It looks like the sniper, 25-year-old Micah Johnson, was driven by his hatred of whites. Whatever was going on in his head, nothing, absolutely nothing, can justify the deed. It was devious and malicious.

The second perspective considers the concerns of the demonstrators who were on the street when the policemen died. They opposed the repeated cases of police violence against blacks. This criticism has substance. In many places, arbitrary police checks of minorities are a reality. Blacks more frequently land in jail that whites. Since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, the police have obtained military-grade vehicles and weapons. Their brutal acts are seldom questioned in U.S. society – even the Democratic Party fears this is unpopular. All too often, blacks are left with the consequences.

The demonstrators were therefore entitled to their protest, as every day blacks are confronted by the police. It is important: We cannot permit the fight of the blacks, and of other civil rights activists against racism, to be discredited because someone committed a murderous attack on white police.

‘Not Equipped with Social Solutions’

Discrimination against blacks in the U.S. is inextricably linked to social issues. To be sure, more and more whites are also being economically left behind, but this has affected blacks in large numbers for many generations. For six years, the white sociologist Alice Goffman moved into a poor black section of Philadelphia for a study. In her book “On the Run,” she describes the everyday racial police brutality. Goffman, however, also explains the ways in which they [police] find themselves in an impossible situation. They are the only government entity to seriously deal with the huge problems in the ghettos. “But the police and the courts are not equipped with social solutions,” the sociologist justifiably maintains. “They are equipped with handcuffs and jail time.”

Too little has changed with all these problems under Barack Obama. Firstly, this has to do with his – quite in the tradition of Bill Clinton – primary focus on strengthening the economy without vigorously forcing social changes. At the same time, the first black president of the United States wanted to avoid being perceived as the advocate of a particular group. Therefore, he reacted situationally in the fight against racism rather than promoting the topic sustainably.

The world remembers how the president sang “Amazing Grace” after nine blacks were massacred in a church in South Carolina, a song that had given slaves strength and hope. Yet, at the same time, he posed decisive questions that are seldom asked: What can be done for blacks who are still being greatly disadvantaged in education because individual success is greatly dependent upon money? How can the American dream be made available for blacks in the ghettos, not only in theory but also in practice?

The third perspective concerns itself with the question of why spectacular violent crime occurs repeatedly in the U.S. In this question there is – quite independently of the particular individual case – no reasonable doubt that the lax gun laws are often a factor.

Opponents of greater arms control always argue that there is nothing bad about a weapon. There are just people who do terrible things with them. Yet, when weapons are easily available to everyone, the probability rises that they will get into the hands of bad or confused people, who do terrible things with them. This is as logical as the one times table, even if strong lobbyists in the U.S. deny it – and invest a lot of money in their message.

No matter the future clarifications of the deed in Dallas, all three of these are true: The murder of policemen is worthy of revulsion. The protests against police violence are justified. Internal disarmament would do the U.S. good.

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