Confronting intolerance takes place, as Ike said, in our hearts

By June Robinson

Our world seems to be rocked daily by new reports of unfathomable violence. We were collectively jolted to horror and disbelief as the events of the past week filled the news with reports of two black men killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and suburban St. Paul, Minnesota. And, this was quickly followed by news of five Dallas police officers gunned down. We are left feeling helpless and confused.

I have heard people say that we need to talk more; that we need to listen more; that we need to take action. I believe that we need to do all of these things to help each other feel like we all belong here and to help all of our neighbors to feel safe in our community.

As a state representative, I take my responsibility very seriously to do the best that I can to ensure that the residents of our communities feel safe. As a wife and a mother, I feel protective of my family with every ounce of my being. I am a white woman married to a black man and mother to two black children, both of whom are now young adults making their way in the world. As such, I have had the unique opportunity to walk through life as a front-row, intimate observer of how black men are treated differently in our society. I can say with first-hand knowledge that black people, and black men in particular, continuously receive deep-seated and insidious negative messages, most of which are unconscious on the part of the messenger, about their worth and their trustworthiness as they live out their lives in our community. This undercurrent of mistrust and misunderstanding results in black men being treated differently by all the power structures of our society, including our law enforcement officers.

Concurrent with this, I believe that our law enforcement officers go to work every day with the honest intention of upholding the honor of their position and doing the best they can to ensure the safety of our neighborhoods. As well-trained as they are, they are not super-human. They have grown up and live in our communities with the rest of us and are affected by the same insidious prejudices that are found in the larger society.

As a step forward, I am anticipating the results of the recently formed Joint Legislative Task Force on the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing. Enabled by legislation that was passed earlier this year, this task force brings together a wide group of stakeholders, including community organizations and law enforcement, to study current policies and make recommendations for best practices to reduce the number of violent interactions between law enforcement officers and members of the public. While promising, the recommendations of this task force will be only one small step towards healing the wounds that we all feel from the effects of numerous violent events in the past weeks and months.

The Legislature, even with our best efforts, cannot solve the deep helplessness that we feel individually and as a community. In fact, I believe the words of President Eisenhower who spoke sixty years ago during the civil rights movement, are relevant for us today. He said “the final battle against intolerance is to be fought — not in the chambers of any legislature — but in the hearts of men.”

Each one of us has a part to play in creating a safer, stronger future. Let’s make sure we believe black men and their families when they say they are afraid. Simultaneously, let’s believe police officers who say they feel disrespected and unfairly targeted. Let’s each find the ability to honor one another as human beings. After all, we are all in this together, and we need each member of our community to feel safe and respected for us all to feel free of fear.

Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, represents the 38th Legislative District. She is running unopposed for her seat this November.

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