As I stood in a church pulpit on Sunday with 12 mothers of police brutality victims behind me, I raised the issue of three officers that were just brutally killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On the second anniversary of the death of Eric Garner, his mother, Gwen Carr, had the courage to lead these brave women as we denounced both police brutality and violence against the police. As I addressed the congregation, I emphasized the fact that the murders of law enforcement are not only morally reprehensible and ethically intolerable, but they hurt the cause of these mothers (and other loved ones) pursuing justice. These family members will face a hardened criminal justice system that looks like it doesn't want to appease people. Even though these parents (who have suffered such immeasurable grief) and civil rights groups have consistently pushed for nonviolence, we are now watching lone actors intensify their pain with these cowardly murders. Instead of carelessly pointing fingers at this crucial moment, we need a national look in the mirror.
On Friday, I spoke at the funeral for 37-year-old Alton Sterling whose gruesome death at the hands of officers was caught on film. The agony and suffering that I witnessed in Baton Rouge, for it to come back now from roads that I had just traveled, brings the point home even more. There cannot be a violent or revenge-type movement and achieve justice. Do people have the right to be angry? Absolutely. In fact, anger and rage are a normal human response to decades of grievances that have long been ignored. But anger cannot make us go and become that which we have been fighting. While people are full of frustration at a system that does not hold law enforcement to the same standards as the rest of us, we cannot and must not forget that there are real victims like these mothers whose very real cases can be upended by horrendous shootings that harden society rather than make society understand our plight.
These mothers and other family members now have empty seats at their dinner tables. Children have lost a parent for good, and entire lives have been cut short -- that is what we must not lose sight of. We are not fighting police; we are fighting wrong. We are fighting people that would end someone's life for no justifiable reason. But we cannot fight that doing the same and failing to denounce those that commit murder. This is why I, my organization, National Action Network, these mothers, other civil rights groups and all those pushing for peace have condemned the killings in Baton Rouge and Dallas as we continue to march for justice for police victims. There are some that seek to divide us for their own benefit, but we must not fall into that trap. It is possible to grieve for police brutality victims and grieve for officers. And yes, it is possible to hold law enforcement accountable, while praising the good work that many of them do day in and day out.
As we went to place flowers on Alton Sterling's grave this weekend, I recalled the great musical genius, the late Michael Jackson, who made a poignant song called "Man in the Mirror". The following lyrics resonate profoundly at this moment:
"And no message could have been any clearer; If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change."
At a time when there are real issues we must tackle, are we going to remain united for the betterment of the nation, or are we going to retrieve to our convenient corners and take sides? Are we going to dig up "gotcha" statements and increase polarization, or are we going to look in the mirror and be part of the solution?
Yesterday, those mothers who lost their own children at the hands of police stood in silent prayer for the three officers killed in Baton Rouge. We could all learn from their example. It is my hope that everyone takes a minute of solace and self-reflection no matter what our faith or lack of faith may be and says whatever else I want society to do, let it start with me.