By Tavis Smiley
Jul 19, 2016
I think the chances are pretty good that the White House just days from now will announce that President Obama intends to travel to Baton Rouge to pay tribute to the slain police officers there. I could be wrong, but I can't imagine him not going now, even though he ignored calls for a presidential visit to Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, Minn., where Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed, just prior to the massacre in Dallas.
If I'm right about this, whenever the memorial service for the slain Baton Rouge officers is announced, a conversation is going to erupt about the optics of such a visit. And they don't look good. Cops killed by black civilians and the president shows up, black civilians killed by cops and he does not.
Gavin Eugene Long shot six police officers, killing three of them, on his 29th birthday. He legally changed his name to Cosmo Setepenra, claiming affiliation with some separatist groups, but made it clear in a video on his YouTube channel that his ideology was his own. Referring to himself as a "freedom strategist," he had recently traveled to Dallas, where five police officers were killed by another sniper, Micah Xavier Johnson, who was also African American.
In one online posting, Long questioned why some violent acts are perceived as criminal while others are celebrated. He suggested that victims of bullying need to resort to brute force, saying "100% have been successful through fighting back. Through bloodshed. Zero have been successful just over simply protesting. It has never worked, and it never will."
It's clear from the large footprint that Long left online that he was deeply troubled by the recent officer-involved shootings of African Americans and saw himself as part of a counter-revolution.
How many more disaffected black men have to self-radicalize before we take their claims seriously?
Obama passed on visiting Minnesota and Baton Rouge to tamp down tensions that were, and make no mistake, are still boiling. A golden opportunity was missed to explicitly say to young black folk that their lives matter too.
Instead, the president chose to once again reprimand black folk in his Dallas speech, and refer to the black cop killer Micah Johnson as "vicious" and "despicable." That description may be apt, but what about the killer cops in the cases of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile?
Am I the only one that sees a pattern here? Young black men, angry, armed and aiming at law enforcement. We can call them lone wolves, deranged, cowardly and reprehensible until we're blue in the face. But you know what I call them and many others in their generation? Discontented. Demonized. Disavowed.
It was interesting to watch the cable news anchors tip-toe around giving details about Long, even though we were all reading reputable online news sources telling us that he was a black male, just like the Dallas shooter. Two black male shooters, both in their twenties.
We can remain in denial, continue to dismiss them, and call them ugly names, but as my grandmother, Big Mama, used to say, "that ain't the answer to the prayer."
Recently, a former Miss Alabama called the black Dallas shooter a "martyr." She was harshly criticized because, to most fellow citizens, he was a menace to society not a martyr. But while her comments generated immediate and significant media exposure, the prison strike in Alabama is being ignored, even as primarily black men are dehumanized in poor prison conditions and subjected to "bird feeding" as retaliation for fighting back to end peonage in the carceral-industrial complex all across America.
Does our society really care about the dehumanization of black males? What's causing this generation of young black men and boys such angst? Are we really trying to hear their pleas and heal their pain? Or are we caught up with simple slogans and rosy rhetoric about uniting and coming together, absent any real conversation about what disgraces and demeans many of them still?
Malcolm X once said, "If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it back six inches, there's no progress. You pull it all the way out, there's no progress. Progress is healing the wound."
Lecturing this generation continuously about how much better off we are in America today is both condescending and counterproductive. The comparison is not black life today versus black life 150 years ago. Of course we've made progress since slavery and segregation. The question is, how does respect for black life today compare with respect for white life today? That's the right now question. And, on that count, our nation is still wanting.
Listen to the tone and tenor of the two political conventions over the next two weeks and tell me if what you hear is "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
We can't get to indivisible, much less justice for all, until we get a real understanding of each other, and how to choose love and justice over hatred and revenge.
Tavis Smiley is host and managing editor of Tavis Smiley on PBS, author of 50 For Your Future: Lessons From Down the Road and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter.