I write this post at the end of an incredibly and publicly violent week in America. Two black men were murdered by law enforcement officials outside of St. Paul, MN. and in Baton Rouge, LA. Five police officers were killed in a targeted mass shooting in Dallas. No doubt, as I’m writing this, people of all political backgrounds and persuasions will be setting the machinations into motion to use these events to their own advantage. No doubt, some good will come from this violence, if only continued discourse about ongoing issues of police violence, systemic racism, gun violence and domesticated terrorism. No doubt, the fear and violence gripping the daily lives of my fellow Americans will continue.
We, as a nation, are killing each other. For me, the most devastating news from this week was not the high profile killings that have occurred, but that around 90 people on average continue to be killed by guns each day.
Guns have permeated so many of the violent acts in our country that we don’t really need to make a distinction between “violence” and “gun violence.” The disturbingly high level of daily gun deaths remains in the background of the national discourse, unknown to most, but compelling our collective story forward all the same. This daily tally is indiscriminate—it doesn’t care if you are white, black, Latino, law enforcement, citizen, immigrant, gay, straight. The violence gripping our country can, and will, consume us all if we don’t do something about it.
The violence gripping our country can, and will, consume us all if we don’t do something about it.
There are many constructive arguments happening about the cause of this violence. Unfortunately, as with most large-scale challenges, there isn’t just one answer. We, have several problems underlying the violence occurring across the nation. It is a challenge of police brutality, a “shoot first” culture, an unregulated gun culture, ongoing racial discrimination and profiling, and much more.
Dissection of the problem is important, but to me, the ultimate issue is that, as a nation, we are not together. We do not see ourselves as all a part of the same journey. Instead, there is “real” America; “immigrant” America; “black” America; “white” America; “Muslim” American and “Christian” America.
The ultimate acceleration of these divisions only leads to violence. And few public leaders, at least at the national level, are not working to unify us together as a country. There has been a recent, divisive shift in national dialog around immigration, race and the role of government in protecting the disenfranchised. I believe that this polarizing dialog has pushed some Americans to a point where they see only one answer: violence. On the political stage, our two presidential hopefuls have the highest ratings of unfavorablility in recent memory. Congress has essentially become a political arena where people score points rather than solve problems. All three branches of government are hindered by the other, ultimately leading to paralysis on a national level while Americans are dying in our streets.
This healing must take root at the local level, community by community…
So what’s the solution? Again, there are many problems that require many solutions, but I know my solution and what I’m working to create. I believe that we need to unify ourselves as a country and build our shared future, together. This healing must take root at the local level, community by community–in Dallas, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Orlando, Charleston, San Bernardino.
That’s why I work at Living Cities. For us, local communities are the unit of change. While Federal politics remains in a stalemate, Living Cities is working with public and civic leaders to make the small incremental changes that will ultimately improve the lives of all Americans. And, because of our commitment to sharing what we’re learning in real time, we’re ensuring that leaders across the country learn from each other to accelerate their work.
You may not see Albuquerque’s growing local entrepreneurship community and the increase of use of Medicaid waivers in New Orleans and supporting the chronicly homeless in Denver as contributing to the reduction of police brutality and gun violence in this country. But to me, this is where we start. This is how we strengthen the civic infrastructure we are sorely lacking. No politician can solve this issue–instead, we all have to do our small part to connect with each other and help each other share in the prosperity of our communities and our country.
At the end of this painful week in American history, ultimately violence is a professional and intellectual challenge for me. No one I personally love has been taken from me because of the violence gripping this country. However, I am aware that for many, many others it is something horrifically personal. This week, the families and friends of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the officers killed in Dallas have joined many others in dealing with a tragic loss. I am determined that it not go further. As each American now realizes, no one is safe from the violence born from our divisiveness. The only way to stop it is to begin to heal the divisions and slowly, as a country, come together.