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Lynn Schmidt: Let's stop and listen, for once, to the other side

Lynn Schmidt: Let's stop and listen, for once, to the other side

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Originally, I was planning on writing about good faith in this week’s column. Specifically, about people with opposing political viewpoints approaching each other in good faith for discussion. But the tragic news of last week overwhelmed me: senseless act after senseless act of violence. Day after day, we watch traumatic videos of Black people being killed by police. A part of me wanted to stick my head in the sand and write about politics again. I sat here thinking, how do I start? What do I have to add? I decided to go back to my original idea of good faith.

Recovery programs teach that the first step in addressing a problem is admitting you have a problem in the first place. America needs to accept that it has a problem with racism. The issues of racism, violence and policing are uncomfortable. It’s all too easy for people to stick their head in the sand and not talk about it or, in my case, not write about it. It is also all too easy to immediately retreat to our sides, look at the world in absolute terms, immediately jump to the conclusion that the other side is our enemy and begin to demonize them.

I am proposing instead, we approach each other in good faith. I am equating the term good faith with trust. Americans seem to be experiencing not only the coronavirus pandemic, but a pandemic of fear and distrust.

I have never been a victim of racism, so I cannot fully know what it is like to be one of those victims. I can, however, feel empathy. I have empathy both for the victims and for the majority of police officers who go to work every day under the banner of protecting and serving. Is it possible to fully empathize and have compassion for both Black Americans facing racism and police officers who appear to have racists in their ranks? I think it is, if you approach both groups in good faith.

As a white woman, I can only listen to young Black people who describe experiencing fear every time they leave their house, wondering: Is this the day I will get shot? Federal data shows that in recent years, young Black males have been 21 times more likely to be shot dead than their white counterparts. There is more bad news from federal data. According to U.S. Census Bureau surveys, the rate of Black Americans showing clinical signs of anxiety or depressive disorders jumped from 36% to 41% after the week of May 21 to 26, which was the week after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. That is roughly 1.4 million more people affected.

As someone who does not work in law enforcement, I can only imagine the fear our police officers feel every day when they put on the uniform and badge. They too put their own lives on the line daily. The fear is certainly constant for them that their judgment will be called into question.

I am not defending any police officer who acted in bad faith. I truly hope there will be justice for those killed. I also do not want to minimize the systemic racism and police brutality that Black Americans experience. We need to start somewhere. I believe it begins with getting uncomfortable, listening and trusting each other.

I don’t pretend to know how to reform policing in America. I have previously written about how I think defunding the police is not the answer. If America is going to face up to its problem with racism and attempt to reform policing, then we must come together in good faith.

Last year, H.R. 7120, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, which the bill’s sponsors say is designed to address “a wide range of policies and issues regarding policing practices and law enforcement accountability. It includes measures to increase accountability for law enforcement misconduct, to enhance transparency and data collection, and to eliminate discriminatory policing practices.”

The bill passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 236 to 181. Among other police-reform measures, H.R. 7120 calls for data collection, which is sorely needed. I can also see how law enforcement could have some issues with it. There is a reason police have limited liability from prosecution for actions they take on the job. I hope there can be a middle ground to make progress for all parties involved.

Perhaps this column seems Pollyanna-ish, or too little, too late. Perhaps, it’s my white privilege. Some might see it as condescending. But my intentions are true. I hope readers will have good faith in me when I say I am sorry for what is happening, ask what I can do, and listen. And may we treat each other not with fear and mistrust, but with good faith, hope and love.

Editorial Board member Lynn Schmidt is the Missouri state leader for Stand Up Republic and is a registered nurse. She lives in St. Charles.

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