For many of us, an idealistic version of America has been instilled in us since we were tots. We have been fed the old script about America being the “Leader of the Free World,” a beacon of hope for those who still dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There’s a sense of gratitude that comes with living in a country seen by many people beyond our borders as a place where “all men are created equal.” Yet, for great numbers of our fellow citizens, the America that they experience is different from the picturesque version that’s been painted throughout history. For them, equality remains part of the American Dream, but not the American reality. For them, “all men are created equal” remains an unmet promise. And for them, what existed in the last several centuries are alive and well here in the 21st century.
Larry Gossett, a veteran local civil rights leader who currently serves as a King County Councilman, made a speech at UWT on May 6. He and those who fought alongside him “naively thought that the black struggle would be over in 1979.” In 1979, 16 years after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, 15 years after the Voting Rights Act became a law, and 11 years after the riots caused by the murder of Dr. King, many Americans thought institutionalized racism was a thing of the past. Unfortunately, Mr. Gossett and his fellow freedom fighters were wrong.
Fifteen years ago marked the beginning of the 21st century. Yet, you’d never know that just by watching what has been happening in Baltimore, Ferguson, and New York. You would think that we’re still in 1968 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. But if Dr. King were alive today, this is what he would say: violence is not what Baltimore needs right now. Violence doesn’t solve anything. In fact, violence hinders progress.
Yet, interestingly enough, while the media is extensively focusing on looting, fires, and robberies, they have yet to explore what is behind all the violence. People are only looking at the surface problem, not the root of it.
“I don’t understand why the majority of the conversation is about the protest while there is rare conversation about why many black men were bullied by police in this country,” said a frustrated Gossett, who was once arrested in a protest during the Civil Rights Movement.
Our communities don’t lack people who are mad but lack people who are compassionate. Our communities don’t lack people who want to see change but lack people who want to make change. And our communities don’t lack people who are part of the problem but lack people who are part of the solution. There’s been too much fighting and not enough talking. There’s been too much blaming and not enough fixing. And there have been too many lives lost and not enough peace.
Here in Pierce County, which contains 25.6 percent of the 228,080 African Americans living in Washington State, we have every reason to believe that what happened in Baltimore deserves our concern and attention here in Tacoma. We might feel like what happened in Ferguson and New York and Baltimore are less likely to happen here in Tacoma, but it could very well happen so long as the same standard doesn’t apply to everyone.
“The growing hostile and conflict between black folks and law enforcement include Tacoma and Seattle,” acknowledged Gossett. When we watch the news on Baltimore, don’t watch it as outsiders when we too, could be insiders. For those of us who live here in Tacoma and Pierce County, as members of our communities, we should join our friends, our families, and our neighbors in talking about what we can do together to build a better place that contains soul, not hate, and that contains care, not blind eyes.