A Time to Come Together

Shaken by the brutal murder of five police officers in Dallas, Texas, a pain-filled nation fears what will come next. More than seven years after an African-American was elected president, racial tensions long smoldering beneath the surface have now burst into the open.

First and foremost, we express our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families and friends of the killed officers, to the Dallas Police Department and to the close-knit family of law enforcement officers and brass throughout the country.

The five men are being remembered as kind individuals, who were dedicated and committed to their profession.

Michael Smith, 55, who received a “Cops’ Cop” award from the Dallas Police Association, was known as a professional and compassionate officer; Lorne Ahrens, 48, had only a day earlier bought a homeless man dinner and encouraged fellow officers to greet the man; Brent Thompson, 43, an officer with the Dallas Area Rapid Transit authority for the past seven years, had gotten married within the past two weeks; Patrick Zamarripa, who would have turned 33 next month, had survived three tours of duty with the U.S. Navy in Iraq, only to be killed in Dallas; and Michael Krol, 40, who, as described by his mother, was “someone who knew the danger of the job, but never shied away from his duty.”

It is a tragic irony that the massacre took place in Dallas, Texas, only blocks from the site where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. As President Obama repeatedly referenced in his remarks, this city’s police force, under the leadership of Chief David Brown, has become a national model for community policing. Brown, himself an African-American, has done much over the past six years to de-escalate the tensions and has dramatically brought down the murder rate in the city.

In the aftermath of the killings, Chief Brown, along with Mayor Mike Rawlings and Governor Greg Abbott, have shown true leadership as they try to calm a jittery populace and start the process of healing.

In his public remarks, Chief Brown urged Dallas to express support for its police department in the days to come. “We don’t feel much support most days,” he said. “Let’s not make today most days.”

We fully agree.

For generations, Jews living under repressive regimes fled at the sight of a police uniform, which almost invariably symbolized brutal anti-Semitic persecution. We are deeply grateful to live in a malchus shel chessed, under a fair and benevolent government that allows us to serve our Creator in peace and relative tranquility, and generally speaking, this applies equally to the conduct of local police departments as well as the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

That doesn’t mean that every person wearing a blue uniform is perfect. As the events of the past few days — and years — have indicated, there are very legitimate reasons to suspect that in certain cases, officers were too quick to pull the trigger. The anguish and anxieties being expressed by many in the African American and Latino communities are very real and must be addressed.

If, after the dust settles and all the details come to light, it becomes apparent that an officer was indeed at fault in the death of a civilian, he must be held accountable. But it is a colossal mistake to generalize and paint entire groups of people, regardless of the color of their skin, with one brush because of the actions of individuals. The same way it would be a terrible error to blame all African-Americans for the actions of the Dallas assassin, it is dreadfully wrong to blame all police officers for the tragic and most regrettable deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

The deeply-held concerns being raised by the African-American community must be taken very seriously, and more must be done to restore trust and rebuild relationships between law enforcement and minority communities. At the same time, it is imperative that inflammatory rhetoric be replaced by respectful dialogue, and instead of pointing fingers, genuine effort must be made to eradicate the culture of violence that is afflicting so many inner-city neighborhoods.

It is a tragic reality that radical groups condoning or encouraging violence are growing on both sides of the racial divide.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of black separatist groups nearly doubled in 2015, as did white hate groups. It is unclear whether the Dallas murderer was directly linked to groups such as the African-American Defense League or the New Black Panther Party or merely derived encouragement from them. Either way, the danger posed by these groups, and their influence via social media, cannot be underestimated.

Only by coming together and working together to lower the flames and find creative solutions can America hope to avoid sliding back to the nightmarish infighting of the past and build a better future for all its citizens.