Week of violence sparks national dialogue on race and policing

The deaths of several black men at the hand of police and the sniper slayings of five police officers in Dallas brought the issue of race and policing back to the front pages. Jeffrey Brown talks to Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University, Dallas Police Deputy Chief Malik Aziz and Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn about what has to be done to bring real change.

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    And now back to this week's violence.

    From Minnesota to Texas, it has brought long-simmering tensions to the spotlight, sparking a national dialogue on race and policing.

    Jeffrey Brown picks up that conversation.


    And for that, I'm joined by three people closely involved with this.

    Malik Aziz is the deputy police chief for Dallas. Edward Flynn is police chief for Milwaukee. His force has faced scrutiny and protests tied to past police shootings there. And Michael Eric Dyson is a writer and professor of sociology at Georgetown University. He is the author of "The Black Presidency," and wrote a piece today's The New York Times called "Death in Black and White."

    Welcome to you all.

    Malik Aziz, I would like to start with you.

    And as we start the conversation, could I ask you first, are you able to now to confirm that it was one shooter last night in Dallas?

  • MALIK AZIZ, Deputy Chief, Dallas Police Department:

    Well, all I can really confirm right now is that it's — we know that it's at least one shooter.

    And with our investigative unit, who is one of the best in the nation, they're turning over every rock and looking in every crevice to make sure that the Dallas police, as you heard our chief, David Brown and the mayor say earlier, that they believe it's a lone shooter. We just want to make sure.

    So, we haven't concluded any investigation. We're just on the surface. So, right now, we have that one lone shooter, and we're going to make sure that he is the only one before we release any definitive totality of statements.


    Tell us, Commander Aziz, your own feelings, the feelings of members of the force about what happened last night.


    Well, I can say, extend my heartfelt condolences and heartfelt sympathy to the family, friends, loved ones, my brothers and sisters in blue across the nation and abroad, that our hearts here in Dallas today are very heavy, a very somber attitude, one of disbelief.

    And it is one of those days. I have been in law enforcement 27 years here in the city or county of Dallas, and I have never had a day like yesterday. It's a day of days, and the worst day of our career and my career and many others, and one of the worst in the nation.

    So our men and women are hurt today, but I must say the outpouring of the residential and business community in Dallas, our awesome citizenry, and they have shown why they're one of the best cities in the world, that Dallas is one of the best cities in the world. They have shown us so much love and support, and so much love and support in the nation and abroad.


    Chief Flynn in Milwaukee, what impact has there been in your force or perhaps in other forces from what happened last night?

  • EDWARD FLYNN, Chief, Milwaukee Police Department:

    Well, I think it's a recognition — and it's certainly a topic of discussion among our officers — of the great conundrum that surrounds American policing, which it is very important for us, most specifically, to protect the rights of the people most displeased with us.

    We have done that many times here in Milwaukee, and that takes place in city after city across the country. Dallas is a fine police department, but it's not an anomaly among American big cities. Going all the way back to the mid-'90s, when the Clinton administration passed the omnibus crime bill, policing has embraced the notion of community-based policing, reaching out to disadvantaged neighborhoods and doing our best to create alliances with those neighborhoods to work with them to create safe environments.

    And that's what we endeavor to do. And there is no group of people in America more committed to protecting black lives than America's police officers in our urban centers. We're the one group of people, in fact, that regularly risk our lives to do that.


    All right, and, Michael Eric Dyson, I will bring you into this now.

    What impact does what happened last night have on this larger ongoing discussion of the shooting of many African-Americans by the police?

  • MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, Georgetown University:

    Well, it throws into the bold relief that all lives of course are significant, important and, ultimately, clearly, matter.

    When Black Lives Matter says their theme, what they're trying to underscore is that there is an historic legacy and pattern of inequality that has prevailed in this culture that has stigmatized and demonized others.

    The reality is, when we look at the situation in Dallas, the lives of those police people are significant and matter. They should be taken seriously. We grieve with them in that city and nation for the loss of life by a deranged person who sought to execute his vision of justice in the world.

    And we want the same empathy of the police departments of this nation which do a fine job in many instances to defend the lives of those who have been vulnerable. When police people act with disregard for life, and end up targeting one population vs. another, when the lethal and ferocious consequences of policing in situations like we have seen this week occur, we want the police, who we defend, who I will defend and say they have a righteous duty and job to do, we also want these police to say, this doesn't represent the best of who we are, this doesn't represent what our ideals are.

    So, when citizens who are clearly not in the wrong and who are trying to comply with the wishes of a particular police person who are then killed, we have to have the police supporting citizens who suggest that that is wrong, even as citizens should stand behind great police people, two of which — two of which whose representatives we have on the show today, to say, this is the appropriate thing.


    Let me ask, Malik Aziz, react, respond to that, please, because the Dallas Police Department has been considered a leader in community involvement and bringing down the numbers of killings. What is your response to Michael Eric Dyson?


    Well, yes, we have just what he said. Community policing, community engagement, Dallas police has — every chief has built on a strong foundation and endeavored to make it better.

    There can be no progress actual unless we actually work together. The police and the community must work together. There is no us vs. them. It's only us working together.

    So, when we look at things, and we must show compassion. Any police officer, any police chief who doesn't show compassion or you don't think he's bothered when we have to take a life, it is not easy. And we are often in those things because, by the very nature of the job, it calls on us to engage. And we want to engage the right way. We want to be accountable.

    That's why we have police chief and police leaders to make sure that we are responsible and accountable, but we also must endeavor to actually have a coalescing of community and police and realize that we're not on an island when it comes to policing.

    If we don't actually — if a community doesn't actually demand for a right way to be policed, then you will leave it up to the police to give you our version of policing. And that may not be what community actually needs.


    Edward Flynn, let me ask you. This is also a day in which we have had a lot of — some talk on social media and elsewhere that the rhetoric against police is perhaps inciting violence as we saw last night in Dallas.

    Do you see a growing anti-police atmosphere in the country?


    I think what we're finding on the streets of our cities is a level of license being taken by the offending community to challenge officers on the streets of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods, where our efforts are the most important and most requested.

    I think what we need to do is step back from this binary discussion we're having right now that, on the right hand, we talk about police use of force, when it's right or when it's apparently wrong, and then on the left hand, we talk about the fact that the greatest disparity of race in America right now is as a crime victim, all right?

    Our central cities, our communities of disadvantage characterized by intergenerational poverty have the highest rates of violence for what we like to call the industrialized society. We're the most heavily armed, most violent society in the industrialized West.

    And it is our African-American communities of disadvantage that suffer the most from it. Their partners in dealing with it are the police, who are often placed in difficult or ambiguous circumstances and sometimes do the wrong thing, but overwhelmingly are the community partners.

    If we're going to have that community discussion, we have to talk about it all at the same time, because the same neighborhoods with the highest rates of violence have the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, substandard housing and lack of education.

    We haven't had that conversation in 40 years.


    So, Michael Eric Dyson…


    We have been delegating America's social problems to the police.


    So, how do we get there in our last minute here?


    No, it's extremely important to take what the chief said, to integrate all of those facets together.

    When we talk about the economic inequality that prevails in the cities, when police are thrown into the cauldron, seething as it is, when black and brown people are subject to sometimes excessive use of force against them, when they are policed by people who come from outside of their communities, community policing is a grand and great ideal.

    I think that the issues of inequality must be put forth on the table. And the respect for human life, why is it that there is a vicious repetition of pattern in certain communities and not others? We must see each other as human beings. We must acknowledge the difficulty of the job that the police have to do, but also to respect the humanity of those people.

    When we see this week the tragic loss of life of those police, but before that two black victims who didn't deserve to die, and we would expect the police to say, this is wrong, this is a scurrilous and, I think, an insensitive offense to any American.

    And when we see police empathizing with that, then those who empathize with the police can bridge that gulf. And, together, we can address the issues that need to be addressed.


    Michael Eric Dyson, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn, and Malik Aziz in Dallas, thank you, three, very much.


    Thank you so kindly.


    Thank you.

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