America finds its new worst thing every once in a while, or at least an event that is the worst in a new way. Maybe Sandy Hook was the worst overall. Or Oklahoma City. Children. Anytime it’s children it’s the worst, a statement that itself reveals there no longer to be any such thing in America as the single worst. But this shooting of a dozen police officers maintaining order at a large street protest is the worst in its way. Its timing, its disinformed intent, its gruesome expression, its disrespect for the first amendment and its five times fatal result all thrust the Dallas shooting into the pantheon of the other great American worsts.
The most important aspect of this story is one that few of us are going to be much help on, and that is the individual stories of grief that now accompany each of these five destroyed lives. They involve wives, children, parents, friends and colleagues. They involve countless lessons that will remain forever untaught, countless people who will be loved that much less, and dozens of individuals who will suddenly be tasked with starting over. These massive and eternal rips in so many family portraits and the wounded officers who will be rising from their hospital beds with some combination of rage, survivor’s guilt and PTSD, are ongoing tragedies that will continue their ripple effects for decades and apart from those flaccid old standbys, thoughts and prayers, there’s not much an average citizen can do to effect easement in any tangible way to the souls who are standing at the epicenter of these tragedies.
I was feeling some movement on the issue that sparked the murderous assault. Slow, incremental, inadequate, yes, but movement. It is reflected in Newt Gingrich’s heavily covered utterance yesterday that he had come to believe that being black in America presented a sense of being at an inherent risk because of the color of one’s skin. Within vast swaths of the American population there has existed a delusion something akin to, “We cut them loose in 1863 and we've hardly bothered them since then.” But you can’t be taken seriously anymore if you’re trying to pretend there doesn’t exist a schism in American policing. Anecdotal and statistical evidence supports that there is, and if you are white and you’ve walked the other side of the street in segregated America for whatever reason, you’ve seen it and felt it as well.
If my hopefulness for what I perceived as the early stages of a national conversation moving in the right direction was another of my Pollyanna fantasies, then this assassination of five and wounding of seven men working the job of keeping the shooter’s city safe derailed nothing. But if there was movement, I think it’s hobbled that movement for now, and because one misguided soul decided to speak for millions of Americans who shared his frustration but not his madness, the momentum for improving racial parity in police encounters has been lost, perhaps for a long time.