Eric Frazier

What one sad, blood-soaked week tells us about the power, and the danger, of our voices

By Eric Frazier

Chris Bailey walks by a makeshift memorial on Griffin Street in Dallas on Friday holding a sign calling for unity.
Chris Bailey walks by a makeshift memorial on Griffin Street in Dallas on Friday holding a sign calling for unity. AP

It’s too hot out here right now. Way too hot.

I’m not talking about the summer heat. I mean the national temperature, our emotional temperature.

We are numb with pain and paralyzed by shock after last week’s grisly videotaped killings of the two police suspects in Louisiana and Minnesota and the five police officers in Dallas.

And many among us are trembling with rage.

Anger spurred former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh to post this inflammatory tweet after the Dallas shootings: “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”

The protesters I’ve met tend to be nerdy college kids, not cold-blooded cop killers.

And I literally have no idea how you separate the president of the United States from “Real America,” whatever that is.

The events of last week left the anger just as raw at the opposite end of the sociological and political spectrum.

“These police aren’t here to protect and serve us,” Diamond Reynolds declared to reporters after livestreaming the aftermath of the shooting of her boyfriend, Philandro Castile, in suburban St. Paul, Minn.

“They are here to assassinate us,” she said. “They are here to kill us. Because we are black.”

I cringed when she said that. I’ve met many officers in my two decades as a journalist; they weren’t the boogeyman. They were just average guys with jobs and kids and bills.

But this is the age of instant opinion sharing, of social media slogans and comments-section insults. We’re so eager to share that there’s even that childish little online game where some commenters so desperately want to be the first to respond to an online post that they just type the word “first” – even with nothing of value to say.

There’s a lot of talk going on now about whether the overheated rhetoric of some Black Lives Matter protesters spurred Micah Xavier Johnson, the 25-year-old Army veteran identified as the Dallas shooter, to take deadly action.

Given that police say Johnson declared that he killed out of anger over the Black Lives Matter movement’s themes, it’s fair to ask those questions.

Protest leaders who have allowed or encouraged chants such as “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon!” as some demonstrators did last year in a Minneapolis rally, need to take this as a moment to reflect and reconsider such tactics.

But even if they take greater care to police their own rhetoric – as they should – they need not back away from activism on the very real issues their movement has raised. Their movement shouldn’t go away until the problems that caused it do.

One twisted black man with evil in his heart does not indict the millions of peaceful protesters across this country any more than Dylann Roof’s rampage in Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church indicts all white people.

This past week was so distressing. It’s easy to forget that, ultimately, we’re all asking the same questions and groping for the same answers.

Why is this happening? What can we do?

I don’t have easy answers. No one does. But I know social and digital media have given every individual a voice.

Bystanders, not journalists, first brought the deaths of Alton Sterling and Castile to the world’s notice.

So stop tweeting and Facebooking and Instagramming and Youtubing for a second. Think about that power – and the responsibility that comes with it.

Then use your voice to lift up the entire country, not just your group or ideology or race. It’s such a small thing, I know.

But at least it’s a start.

Eric: 704-358-5145; efrazier@charlotteobserver.com.

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