So let’s get the disclaimers out of the way first: I’m a white male somewhere near the end of the my life’s middle who was raised (and still resides) comfortably in the middle class. In other words, I personify white privilege. This was not something I sought, or earned, but was a circumstance of my birth. Admittedly a happy circumstance. So please take what I say in these following words through that filter.
This past week has been a tough one in the US. There have been at least two instances of black men being killed by police (Baton Rouge LA and St. Paul MN) and one incident of a black man retaliating by shooting 14 people in Dallas TX, killing five police officers. In my opinion, none of these deaths was justified. Let me say that again: NONE OF THESE DEATHS WAS JUSTIFIED. In LA, two officers responded to a call of an armed suspect. Alton Sterling had displayed a weapon briefly in an effort to stop another individual from harassing him. In video released to the public, the two officers push Sterling to the ground. At some point in the melee, one officer shouts that he (Sterling) had a gun. Shots ring out, and a young man’s life comes to an end.
In MN, a video taken after Philandro Castile was shot is narrated by his girlfriend as he bleeds to death beside her. She is also the one taking the video. Calmly, she relates that Castile, on being stopped by the police, informs the officer that he has is armed and has a concealed carry permit. While Castile reaches for his back pocket to get his wallet (presumably at the request of the officers,) he is shot. Apparently, the officer thought this young man was going for his gun even after being told by Philandro himself that he was armed. Another young man gone.
In apparent frustration and retaliation for these and other similar incidents, an army veteran in Dallas felt the need to fight back. Unfortunately, he chose to take up arms with the intent to kill white people, especially white police officers. The venue he chose was a Black Lives Matter protest in response to the first two incidents. He opened fire and shot 14 individuals. He killed five police officers. News reports say that these officers, in a city that apparently made great strides in police-community relations, were killed running into the gunfire and shepherding the protestors to safety.
All of these, and any similar, killings were senseless. They are reflective of the racism and bias that still exists in our country, running all too often just below the surface. Further, it is exacerbated by the increasing gap in income equality we are faced with. In my opinion (and I’m no expert,) unless we address this core inequality we will continue to be confronted with events like these.
Where to start? First, let’s take a look at transportation. I’ll use Omaha as my example as it’s where I live and am most familiar. Our city has made strides in improving transportation options, but we still have much to improve on. The bike paths and lanes that have been put in are great. Unfortunately, they also catch the eye of developers who want to capitalize on this new “market.” Gentrification sets in and low to moderate income families are displaced to make way for younger, hipper crowds. Not only is this a problem for those displaced, but now we have made other areas that could benefit from better transportation options fearful that they will be forced to move as well. To be honest, I wasn`t part of Omaha when the trails and most of the lanes were installed, but I have seen it happen elsewhere. I have no reason to believe it didn’t/won’t happen here.
A push is on here in the Big O to add Bus Rapid Transit along Dodge Street from Westroads to Downtown. I’ve reported on this before and still think it’s a great idea as long as other steps are taken to convince the residents of West Omaha to give up their cars for their trips into downtown. The issue here is that West Omaha is decidedly more affluent than North or South O. BRT as currently planned is not going to make it easier for those citizens to commute to work, get their errands done, or otherwise transact business downtown. The other MAPA routes that serve those communities need to be improved if we are to close the inequality gap.
Besides transportation, other services and amenities offered by the city need to be distribute equitably. Parks, streets, and other infrastructure should not be a bone to throw now and then to the less “privileged” areas. Most importantly, our schools need to be equitable. The best teachers shouldn’t be reserved for one neighborhood over another. ALL children are deserving of a chance at a good education.
As a son of the South, I know all too well that there are those who will hate and fear solely based on the pigment of someone else’s skin. I deeply regret this. I don’t know how to solve that problem as it’s ingrained (and too often inbred) into those who feel that way. My hope is that closing the income gap for ALL people will let us see each other as who we are, and not as we fear we are.
Those of you with sharp eyes will note that I put quotes around privileged above. I do so because my experience has been that these neighborhoods often have a better sense of community that those of the economically privileged. They are more likely to truly know their neighbors. They come together for reasons other than to grasp onto what they have or to keep others out. They are a community. And I hope they use that community to fight for some of what I’ve alluded to. If they do, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.