Police Shootings, Death in Dallas, Terror, and the Tie That Binds Them All

Written by on July 18, 2016

Image: Malmo – “Non-Violence”/Flickr

Dead bodies litter the ground – both here and abroad – lying in mute testimony of our failure to learn to live in peace with each other. First there’s the work of the terrorists, dispensing random death the way the wind deposits leaves in autumn, with neither design nor intent. Then there is the constant hum of urban violence; so incessant and omnipresent that it almost blends into the background of our national soundtrack.

And now our Summer of discontent offers up the bullet riddled bodies of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and those of 5 Dallas area police officers.

At first glance, all of these deaths are separated by time, place and motivation. Some are the work of overseas jihadists, others were killed by teenaged gangbangers; and worse still, some were executed under the color of legal authority.

But there are two things that tie all of these murders and bodies together, regardless as to whether they occur in Chicago or Iraq, and regardless as to whether they were killed by a gangster or a cop. I submit that they were all killed as a result of someone’s twisted sense of delivering Justice, by individuals who were able to magnify their malice through the use of firepower (mostly guns).

While we have gotten used to viewing terror, death and murder through divisive lenses that allow us to see others as having ideologies that we despise, or to see other people as being so unlike us that it is ok to hate them, there is a more seminal truth behind the carnage that we splayed across our TV screens. That deeper truth is this: people are perceiving themselves to be the victims of unfair treatment, and are using tools at their disposal that they feel will allow them to powerfully make things right!

Now, in virtually all cases their quests are perverse and misdirected. But our only hope of staunching this bloodletting is by trying to understand the perpetrators who initiate it. So indulge me for a moment as I try tie all of the ugliness together.

It begins with the human thirst for Justice, a thirst that is innate, a human birthright, really. All of us have a natural inclination to have things made right (at least as far as we are able to perceive the right) and all of us want to be treated fairly. But when we sense that the wrongs that we see and endure will continue on, unaddressed and uncorrected, a growing sense of Injustice is born. All too often this will lead to alienation and anger, and then to outrage.

Left unchecked, this festering outrage will lead many to conclude that they have a right – almost an obligation – to act in destructive ways to balance the scales. One prominent psychiatrist, Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, gave this mindset a name – he called in Destructive Entitlement. Basically Destructive Entitlement explains why people who perceive themselves to be wrongly impacted by injustice are able to give themselves the right to do very destructive things. Go ahead, look it up.

Now, how do I apply this, you ask?

There are many cops out there who feel sick and tired of criminals and “thugs” (that’s code language, there) wreaking havoc and threatening society. It ain’t right, it’s unfair, and somebody ought to do something!

And there are many terrorists out there who feel that the imperialists have corrupted their culture and robbed them of their divine destiny, while getting rich off of their resources. These terrorists are absolutely sure that somebody ought to do something to make things right.

And everyday in the ‘hood a young ‘un wakes up with the threat of simply trying to survive because he/she doesn’t have enough – or they simply don’t feel that they are enough! Their wide eyes take in the all-to-available pictures of others who have plenty, who often throw away more than folks in the ‘hood possess. The creeping sense of “nobody-ness” (as coined by Martin L. King) erases a healthy sense of self and thereby destroys a capacity for empathy. It isn’t fair, and somebody ought to…

You get my drift?

I am not saying that these people are right for feeling as they do; I am simply offering explanation as to how some people get to a point to where inner rage gets born – and then justified. After that, all that remains is that someone finds the means to magnify their rage so that they can gain the power to do what needs to be done in order to make things right, to correct the injustice.

That’s where the firepower (i.e., guns) come in.

The GUN offers instant access to voice and power; it allows the formerly unnoticed to bark here, and bite way over there. It exponentially ramps up the heft of the disenfranchised person, and seductively offers itself as a balancing tool for negotiation.

In fact, Colonel Samuel Colt’s famed six-shooter revolver was nicknamed “The Equalizer”.

It is a furtive – and often misdirected – quest for Justice and Fairness that leads to the outrage that divides people and creates animosity. But worse still, it is the ready availability of firearms that entices people to move beyond less lethal means (like dialogue, arbitration, etc) in their quest to achieve Justice and Fairness. After awhile the gun becomes the tool of first resort in seeking Justice, rather than the final option.

Instead of Justice and Fairness what many now prefer is the eradication of the perceived enemy. Guns offer that option to those blinded by their ideologies and their perceptions of injustices endured. Ironically, the more available guns become the more they are deemed essential by those who view themselves as marginalized and unempowered, and therefore more likely to be victimized by injustice!

What we need instead are real pathways toward Justice; we need real dialogue that leads to brave and unflinching engagement for the purpose of creating understanding.

But more than anything, what we most need is to make sure that those possessed with a perverted need to pursue justice through destructive means find it well nigh impossible to get their eager hands on a gun!

Maybe then, while complaining about their inability to get a gun, they’ll also talk about why they are so upset in the first place. Who knows, maybe a conversation might begin.

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