In my premier post, I discussed a personal struggle to understand how to effectively convey empathy and build a helpful allyship with racial minorities. Beyond social media and digital declarations, I felt ill-equipped with the right tools to take a meaningful stand. How do I improve the lives of those who are oppressed? How do I understand their plight and history? As a member of the majority, how can I mend the gapping racial wound in America?
I recently came across a New York Times article that struck a chord with these deliberations. Last week in rural Georgia, a police officer hosted a public apology for lynching and rampant racial violence of the early 20th century. Among many upsetting stories, Chief Louis Dekmar learned of a particularly cruel, local murder in 1940 that involved an imprisoned, black teenager being dragged out by a mob of masked, white men and getting lynched. Compelled to address this wrongdoing, Dekmar met with N.A.A.C.P. representatives to plan a public ceremony that would acknowledge these moral transgressions. Blacks and whites alike gathered to attend the speech and widely embraced the push towards healing.
LaGrange, Georgia seems to know something many in the country don’t, especially its police department. For that last several years, cops there have been actively promoting racial reconciliation and repairing the mistrust between law enforcement and racial minorities. While towns like Ferguson were ripped apart by their ethnic divides, LaGrange has been proactive in rebuilding trust. Granted, this town is not immune to the pervasive disease of racial divisiveness. Some locals said they didn’t see the point of apologizing for an injustice older than most people living in the town today. “Back the Blue” posters hang in shop windows, representing a cryptic rhetoric that often opposes Black Lives Matter sentiments. Protests even ensued after a Georgia Democrat undermined President Trump’s legitimacy.
The goal should never be neutralizing all beliefs, though. No matter how compelling an argument, there will always be deviants and nay-sayers. The United States is far too diverse to ever reach total consensus on contentious issues. However, Chief Dekmar took an important step in the right direction. When systemic inequality is so evident within the criminal justice system, simple recognition of wrongdoing can be both a powerful statement and unifying force.
As a white man, Dekmar faced a similar burden as I described. It can be uncomfortable to acknowledge the long history of black oppression in the US that dates back to the country’s inception. But with increasing amounts of anti-immigrant sentiments, somewhat fascist feelings, and isolationist tendencies spreading, internal divisions become that much more vital to address and reconcile. Dekmar stepped away from what was easy into what was difficult. Actions like these are incredibly valuable in the current political atmosphere and must be replicated as often as possible.