JP Observer: Translating harmony into justice takes work

July 22, 2016
By

Porchfest in Jamaica Plan revealed an almost other-worldly neighborhood on July 9. Crowds of people of many colors, backgrounds and ages stood in attentive clusters every few streets, clapping for bands and singers and other performers, too.

All afternoon, the grand mix of humans—some holding maps dotted with the 80-plus locations offering entertainment—paraded down the sidewalks keeping time to the music.

Performers seemed to mirror audience. The white guy holding a guitar nodding to dark-skinned lead singer at the microphone in Hyde Square exemplified the diverse groups of entertainers playing together across JP.

That cool day it was hard to imagine that our country was in turmoil over three violent, racially charged shooting incidents just days before that left seven people dead and nine wounded.

But JP joins the nation in crying out: What’s to be done?

Caring people have already decided that saying “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims” of gun violence is not enough. We need to extend that sentiment to say discussing race relations is not enough either.

It’s good to talk about race, but not instead of doing years of hard work it will take to change existing government policies that support violence and injustice. We need to join Dallas Police Chief David Brown Sr. in telling government officials: Do your job. What’s more, we have to get new people elected if the ones in place refuse to change.

We have to constantly press for national gun control laws. Five police officers in Dallas were killed and nine injured by a gunman with a semi-automatic rifle during a peaceful protest. Finding the shooter was especially difficult because 20-plus civilians were also carrying rifles. (They did not and could not “take out” the shooter, of course).

Two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana appear to have been senselessly shot point blank by police days before. The officers reportedly said they were frightened because the men had guns in their pockets. Both victims may well have had them legally.

Everyone knows that very few police officers who have killed black men for no apparent reason in recent years ended up in any long-term trouble. Investigations and prosecutions conducted by people who are basically coworkers of local police and leading sometimes to trials before local juries can seldom be impartial. All police-related deaths should be handled by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org), the advocacy arm of Black Lives Matter, has come out with a list of 10 good policy recommendations regarding policing. And there’s other research to be done and possible real policy change to accomplish.

For six-and-half hours one Saturday, Jamaica Plain exemplified what the whole country could be. JP’s a small place. It isn’t perfect, and it was just one afternoon.

But with the music of a harmonious neighborhood still playing in our minds, we can take practical steps to create policies that promote safety and justice for people of color and for police. As President Barack Obama said in a town hall meeting on this topic July 14, “We have an obligation to our children.”

[Sandra Storey is founder and former publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette.]

 

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