Anyone who has experienced childbirth can attest to this fact: no great change comes into the world without pain. From our earliest origins as a nation we have been torn by a fundamental contradiction between our ideals and our reality. With great pain, we are closing that gap, squaring that contradiction.
We hold these truths to be self-evident. Generations before us have borrowed pride from that lofty vision while falling short of its demands. After so many false starts, aspirations, partial payments, and bloodshed, we may be approaching a climax. Over the noise of shouting and gunfire and paid TV commentators, in quieter conversations happening all over the country in person and even in our much-reviled social media, we may be starting to understand one another.
Police represent us in a truer sense than any Congressman or Governor. While our political leaders describe our values in speeches and legislation, police officers express the reality of our values on the ground. When they murder innocent people, they do it in our name, on our moral ledger. When they are killed protecting us, we bear the moral cost of their sacrifice.
The highest of our collective failures, a cost that can never be repaid, is carried by the families and friends of the dead, blue or black. Our black citizens live every day with the worry that they might be next, that they might be asked to foot the bill for our unrealized vision. Our police and their families volunteer to carry the same burden on our behalf.
As we struggle to close that persistent gap between our self-evident truths and our persistent racial lies, police are absorbing friction from both sides. Police are the crucible for this climactic wave of change. That may be good news, because they have developed into one of our least-appreciated strengths as a culture.
Bigotry, racism, guns, fear, and hopelessness are boiling together into an ever more toxic brew. Police have been wrestling with these demons for decades. While high-profile incidents of violence have made them a symbol of our cultural failures, more quietly they have grown into one of our great cultural success stories. Just look at Dallas.
Progressive, intelligent, humane, a model of non-violence, the Dallas Police Department is among the most successful big city police in the country. In Dallas, a rally to protest police shootings that occurred elsewhere in the country was attended and aided by police. Then those protestors were defended by police as one of our other cultural symbols – the psycho mass shooter armed with an assault rifle – murdered officers. In Dallas, protestors and police have wept together. Dallas, of all places.
Our past few years have been defined by a series of pointless deaths and a political environment soaked in gonzo lunacy. We are an electorate struggling to find a common vision for our future. In public we are riven by paid cheerleaders for rage, yet quietly, on our neighborhood streets, hope is stronger than it has ever been.
Humane values are winning. Forget about the politicians and commentators. Look at what is happening on the ground. Look at Dallas, at both the bloodshed and the response.
A wider view shows the truer picture: this outpouring of hatred, fear, and outright lunacy is not our direction, it is a reaction to our direction. A world our ancestors dreamed of creating is being born around us in blood and pain.
This dramatic change is stirring latent poisons from our system, but we are growing stronger. Beneath the voices of outrage, new ties of understanding are being formed. Our best hope for the future is represented by the protestors and the police who were attacked in Dallas. They present a promising picture of a bright new era just coming into view.
We mourn officers killed while protecting others. We mourn civilians killed by police officers for their race. We learn to recognize that neither is an exception. Neither is an outlier. Both represent who we are as a people right now, in 2016. And we develop the determination to become better.
By finally wrestling with the dissonance between our vision and our present-day lives, we are becoming the Americans we always believed we could be. A nation in which “all lives matter” might soon cease to be an evasion and instead become an assumption. That America is within our reach.
We hold these truths to be self evident.