Reflections on the second anniversary of 7/7.
Editor’s note: Imam Omar Suleiman was at a Black Lives Matter march in downtown Dallas two years ago when a sniper began aiming for police officers. On the second anniversary of the shootings, he looks back at what has happened since – and ahead at where we need to go next.
Two years ago, on July 7, 2016, I marched with protestors in the streets of Dallas against police brutality. The day after, I spoke at a vigil for police officers shot dead in front of my eyes protecting that very protest. The officers that were killed that day were in no way responsible for those who wore the same uniforms as them when they killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. And the protestors that day were in no way responsible for a man who prior to the protest planned to commit that heinous act after the protests were over. Indeed, it can be said that the murderer of those officers acted out of the same hatred that he claimed to detest. Just like many perpetrators of police brutality only see black skin, the murderer of those officers only saw blue uniforms.
At the end of it all, the children of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Brent Thompson (one of the five officers gunned down) were left without fathers and with a surfeit of trauma that would quickly leave the news cycle. Philando’s 4-year old daughter was in the car that day and shouted, “I don’t want you to get shooted,” at her mother. Alton’s 15-year-old son sobbed at a press conference, crying out, “I want my daddy.” And Brent Thompson’s 19-year-old son tragically committed suicide a little over a year after his father was killed.
Eric Garner was choked to death by officers, saying “I can’t breathe,” and his daughter Erica bore his burden until she too no longer could. And America as a whole seems to be suffocating in pain. We are so polarized that we cannot even recognize one another’s humanity over shallow political positions and divisive identity politics.
But there is more to the story than the pain of losing your beloved one to senseless murder, though that’s certainly an essential starting point. Losing your loved one is painful whether it’s to a car accident, a heart attack, an armed robbery, or a terrorist attack. What the killer is shouting or acting in the name of, or if the killer has a voice at all, isn’t going to bring back your loved one. But still there is an inequity of pain often drowned out in one-dimensional calls for peace and reconciliation.
Take the example of the murder of unarmed black men by police officers in comparison to the murder of police officers.
When an officer is killed, the killer will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. All levels of government will acknowledge their magnanimous existence on earth before they were taken from us, and their noble sacrifices in the call of duty. Community organizations raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for their families. Thoughts and prayers flood the community, and flags are often lowered to half mast. We all feel the pain of their families, as we rightfully should, at least momentarily.
When an officer kills, however, the system…