Do Not Only Point the Way, But Lead the Way

Do not only point the way, but lead the way. β€” Lakota proverb

I came across this tonight while reading Twitter. This was from the account @NativeAmWisdom which I have been following for a few months. Accuracy of the quote? I have no idea. And honestly, even if its not a Lakota proverb, its a timely perspective – at least for me.

I know that anyone reading this sees what is going on in the United States (and some parts of the world) right now. The death of a single man at the hands of brutal and uncaring police tactics has led to protesters in the streets. Their anger and anguish at a system that has promoted systemic racism in nearly every corner has led to the destruction and looting that we saw early on in these protests, which are fourteen days running at this stage. Over time, we have determined that much of the violence and destruction was being done to create chaos and blame for the African American community that was at the forefront of all of this. There has been a lot of wringing of hands, a lot of worry, and a lot of wild lashing out from the White community, of which I am a part of. But all of that hand wringing, worry, and lashing out provides a convenient cover for not listening. Being concerned with laying the blame over the violence and the such excuses what sparked all of this – brutal tactics by the police, much of which is disproportionately aimed at the Black and Hispanic communities. Its systemic racism by the system.

But once you have listened and heard what the problems are…what’s next? The anger and frustration isn’t going to get better because everyone gets tired of it. The more that empty platitudes and nothingness are utilized to assuage the anger and frustration, the higher that anger and frustration is going to rise. Like it or not, we have reached a point where our society has to make some major changes so that we can go forward. And those societal changes are not going to be easy, particularly for those who have been in the positions of privilege. And its not going to happen overnight, as much as many of us would like it to. As a world society, we are standing in a heavily populated minefield. Any step we take is dangerous, but standing still is no longer an option. Going backwards is not even an open avenue. Where do we go from here?

I’m no seer. And I have no desire to tell anyone else what they should do with their lives or how they should think. You’re grown-ass adults (for the most part) and capable of making your own decisions and stepping in dog-shit on your own. I’m happy to offer advice for how to get the stuff off the bottom of your shoe, if you ask. So, I definitely don’t have any or all the answers for this. Plus, I’m one voice of many, many others. Nothing makes me the guy that drives the world bus.

Or is there something? I may not be the driver of the bus, but I can certainly try my best to help people get to the bus. As the proverb states, I not only have the chance to point the way, but to also lead in getting there.

I grew up as a fairly privileged middle-class white kid. Granted, I was an Air Force brat, so I changed schools every single time my father got a new duty station. On average that was about once every two-to-three years. I grew up with kids from all kinds of family backgrounds. But even in the military housing areas, race was a bit of an issue. White kids hunt out with White kids, Blacks with Blacks – and so on. There was another dichotomy that took hold there as well – officers and enlisted families. My father was enlisted, so we were often housed in areas where enlisted families were. Once I got into the active duty military service myself, I also noticed a further dichotomy between branches of the military. In a manner of speaking, it was a “natural” segregation, except that it wasn’t. We learned our segregation techniques from our parents, who learned it from their parents and so on. And as those folks moved forward in their society, and formulated the laws and rules of the 1980s society that I would live in – their prejudices and desires for separation were turned into legal statutes and eventually became a further cementing of the institutionalization that has become where we are. We teach, preach and advocate for everyone to have the same opportunities and chances, but when you’re not fairly well off, there are a lot more hurdles in your way. Leveling that playing field is nearly impossible.

So….where do I think we should go from here? Well, in terms of short-term solutions, I see a need to de-militarize the police forces. The small city just to the north of me has a military-grade Assault Vehicle for their Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. In the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, part of his program showcased a police training specialist who told police officers that he was training that they would be in a position at some point to take a life. Could they? If they could not, he noted “You should probably find yourself another career.” I really do encourage you to watch the video, as he goes into a lot more detail on a lot of other points. However, de-militarize the police department. Yes, de-fund the police and put the de-funded monies back into Community programs. That’s a start. The Dallas police department adopted a “Duty to Intervene” policy, where officers witnessing brutal attacks and methods being used by other officers must intervene and stop what is taking place. About a week back, I noted that the protesters needed to intervene with those people who were destroying property and trying to incite violence – essentially insuring that others did not take control of their agenda. The Dallas Police Department is doing the same. Again, a good start. But more can be done. More communication backed by actionable ideas that are followed through on. A police department is there for the safety of its community, not be feared by the community. For me, this is the starting point. After this, I have no idea where things can go. But this needs to be done nationwide. No more racial profiling. No more using brutal tactics where those being arrested have to fear that they may die from what is being done to them. No more choke holds. Let’s bring the police back to what they are supposed to do, and alleviate them of the stuff that should never be in their hands in the first place.

I have already contacted my local police department and my county sheriff’s offices asking for budgetary and spending numbers for the last three fiscal years. Once I have a better idea of what I am looking at, I’ll find the office of my city council-member and ask for a polite sit-down to discuss what I find and what can be done about it. I’m living in yet another super-Republican county. Everywhere I look in the county, I see people with yard signs (and even flags) proclaiming their support for Donald Trump, so I am not sure how much traction I will get. But at the very least, I can try.

In the meantime, I am shutting my mouth and listening. To be able to help with the fight, I have to understand where I can help and what exactly is wrong. Trust me, these are not the easiest conversations in the world for me. In high school, my best friend was a Black man from one of the poorer parts of Shreveport, Louisiana. Stan got into the all-boys private school that we attended because of his brains. Like many of the Black students in the school, he worked in the cafeteria during his lunch breaks, to help cover the costs of his education. The rest was picked up by scholarships. I never really understood how degrading that could be for a student at the school until a few weeks ago, when I started remembering what life was like at the “elite preparatory” high school. We hung out after school, I visited his home where his mother (single parent) treated me like I was a member of the family. I only hope I can carry on her attitude that all of us are the same. Except that now I am starting to understand that there was an unspoken “but” in that statement. All of us are the same, but we are treated differently because of the pigmentation of our skin. Gods, I can only hope that one day we can erase the “but” part of that statement, and make her statement a true reality. First, Black Lives must Matter. Once we can get that measure to take place, the other measures will be even easier, and the playing field will be as level as we can make it. At least where race is concerned.

–T /|\

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