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DEBRA HALE-SHELTON: From disasters come scenes of hope

by Debra Hale-Shelton | June 7, 2020 at 1:40 a.m.

I am a believer--in God, the Bible, prayer, and the basic humanity of most people. I am a believer--in sin, hypocrisy, hate, and the worst of humanity.

I've seen both--as a journalist, teacher, mother and American.

During the past week, from a home television, I've safely watched the best and the worst in cities across this country. There have been peaceful protesters, destructive looters, government leaders using a black man's death to get votes, politicians trying to help the nation heal, police appearing to use unnecessary force, police kneeling with protesters.

Black Americans' long-simmering fears, frustration and anger escalated May 25. That was the day a now-former Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck even as Floyd pleaded for his life until he could breathe no more.

In his last moments, Floyd cried, "Mama! Mama! I'm through." Floyd was 46. His mother died two years ago.

One of the most moving images I've witnessed, albeit from afar, featured the man who heads the police department for which Derek Chauvin, the ex-officer charged in Floyd's death, worked. As Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo talked with protesters, a CNN reporter relayed a question that Floyd's father requested she ask.

@@nepThe father wanted to know if police would arrest the other three now-

former officers who had stood by without intervening as Floyd was dying./@@nep

In a show of respect, Arradondo removed his police hat as he addressed Floyd's father and indicated the three were fired because their inaction made them "complicit" in Floyd's death. The chief said any decision on additional charges was up to the county attorney's office and the FBI.

The father began crying uncontrollably; the reporter cried, too.

There were other scenes that gave me hope--a sheriff who took off his riot gear and marched with protesters in Flint, Mich.; police officers who kneeled beside protesters in various cities. In Coral Gables, Fla., officers kneeled and prayed with protesters, CBS News reported. In New York's Times Square, a demonstrator hugged an officer after he took a knee, CBS said.

Some political leaders also sought to help a nation in mourning and turmoil begin to heal. And then there was President Donald Trump.

Shortly before curfew one evening, police and National Guard troops began tear-gassing a generally peaceful crowd of protesters at Lafayette Park near the White House. The reason: Trump wanted to walk to St. John's Episcopal Church, known as the Church of the Presidents, for a photo opportunity.

Once he got there, he stood beside the church, which had been damaged during protests a day earlier. Someone handed him a Bible--you know, the book that Trump said has Two Corinthians in it--and he held it up as if it were a small trophy.

This happened last Monday night. To my knowledge, Trump has not said why he had to do the photo--likely fodder for his re-election campaign--right then during the protests. Nor is there any word on why he didn't get a photo outside the church the day before--Sunday, a perfect time for regular church attendees.

Or if that Sunday wouldn't work, there have been many other Sundays this year. I don't know if the church has Wednesday night services; maybe Trump knows.

Many people, including the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, have criticized Trump's 17-minute photo session that did not include a prayer. Trump didn't mention Floyd while there either.

A fellow Republican, former President George W. Bush, showed far more class.

Bush issued a lengthy statement in which he called it "a strength when protesters, protected by responsible law enforcement, march for a better future."

Bush added: "This tragedy--in a long series of similar tragedies--raises a long overdue question: How do we end systemic racism in our society? The only way to see ourselves in a true light is to listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving. Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America--or how it becomes a better place."

Former President Barack Obama, the nation's only black president, issued a statement addressing the pain so many black Americans have faced.

"But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly 'normal'--whether it's while dealing with the health-care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park," Obama said.

Trump's likely Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, met with people at a Delaware protest site one day, and the next day visited with community leaders at Bethel AME Church, a predominantly African American congregation in Wilmington, Del.

Whether they are Democrats or Republicans, all members of Congress should speak out against the kind of police behavior the four officers displayed in Minneapolis. Just as the three officers who haven't been arrested were, in the chief's opinion, complicit in the crime, we are complicit in racial discrimination if we don't speak against it.

Our nation made progress in the 1960s, another era of protests and riots. We enacted civil-rights legislation that some Americans now sadly want to revoke. We slowly but gradually began desegregating public schools and outlawed housing discrimination.

But we failed to realize that the effects of past slavery, oppression, poverty and discrimination don't just vanish. Stereotypes often persist. More legislation may be needed.

Many blacks do not get equal justice in the courts. Jurors and judges are human; they have prejudices. The best lawyers rarely are inexpensive. The poorest of jail inmates often can't get out on bail while an inmate better off financially can often get out even if he's charged with a worse crime.

I don't have all the answers. But if we don't start trying, we'll never have them. We must listen, then try to understand and have empathy for each other, And we must examine ourselves: Do we whites stereotype other races or ethnic groups?

If we are honest with ourselves, we might then better understand the black mother's fear when her teenage son leaves home, the poor white woman's fear that others will criticize her for getting the food stamps her family needs, the Hispanic immigrant's fear that others will peg him as an illegal who should be reported.

Start working for change today. Visit a predominantly black church when you can, support a black-owned business, talk to your children, and don't stay silent when you see racism. All this goes for me, too.

Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at dhaleshelton@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.

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