Hold on to hope

Published 3:00 am Saturday, July 16, 2016

My heart is full as I continue to grieve for Seth Rich, shot by an unknown assailant as he walked to his Washington, D.C., home in the early morning on the Lord’s Day. Seth was my colleague at the Democratic National Committee. He worked on one of democracy’s highest callings, registering citizens to vote and helping them find their polling place.

I grieve for him as I grieve for the fallen officers in Dallas, Texas, killed by a veteran with a soul warped by war and hate. I grieve for the officers’ wives and their children. Some, like Sandy Thompson, are nearly grown, but still children. I grieved as I watched her choke back tears, talking of her love for her fallen father, Brent Thompson, a former Marine and transit officer in Dallas who had married just two weeks ago.

I grieve for Alton Sterling, father of five, shot in a routine police action while selling CDs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, my home state. I grieve for his son, Cameron Sterling, a boy about the same age as Sandy Thompson. The memory of him with his arm around his mother, pulling his T-shirt over his head to weep in some privacy, will forever stay with me.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

I grieve for them all.

I grieve too for the stereotypes held of black people, held even in the nation’s capital. I grieved as I watched South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only African-American in the GOP’s caucus, talk of disrespect in the Capitol Building where, of all places, he should have it. Though wearing the pin that identifies him as a senator, Scott spoke of how a Capitol security guard told him, “The pin, I know. You, I don’t. Show me your ID.”

I grieve for those politicians who watched the tragedies in St. Paul and Baton Rouge and Dallas unfold, then seized them as an opportunity to divide Americans along the same, tired lines that brought us to where we are today.

I grieve for our president who, for the 16th time, had to address the nation about a horrific mass shooting; who, for the 16th time, met in private with families of the deceased, hugged them, held them and wept with them.

And yet, I also feel stirrings of joy. I love the messages that both President Bush and President Obama gave. Each in their own way spoke of respect and tolerance and their faith in us, our unity and common decency, our possibilities.

“At times, it seems like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together,” Bush said, adding: “Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”

Obama struck a similar message.

“In this audience, I see what’s possible,” Obama said. “I see what’s possible when we recognize that we are one American family, all deserving of equal treatment, all deserving of equal respect, all children of God. That’s the America that I know.”

He knows the road ahead will require effort. Effort from all of us. And in Dallas he rallied us, saying, “I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem.”

He reassured us that “the reward comes in knowing that our entire way of life in America depends on the rule of law; that the maintenance of that law is a hard and daily labor; that in this country, we don’t have soldiers in the streets or militias setting the rules. Instead, we have public servants — police officers — like the men who were taken away from us.”

Then came the wisdom of holding onto hope:

“I know we’ll make it because of what I’ve experienced in my own life, what I’ve seen of this country and its people — their goodness and decency — as president of the United States.”

The answer to our repeated tragedies is to change our character, he said. The president quoted Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart, the Lord says, and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

After all the terrible violence this week, one thing is clear: This is not blacks versus whites, or cops versus civilians, or Black Lives Matter versus pandering politicians. Rather, this is about people who work out their issues with violence, as opposed to people who work for justice and peace.

We have to be clear though. This is a complex problem that continues to arise because we can’t see past each other’s positions. We saw this week how profoundly cameras have changed this conversation. How they will not let us lie to ourselves anymore. It is no longer good cops vs. bad guys.

We don’t have to choose sides over the slaying of Philando Castile or the killing of Dallas policemen. We are rightly sickened by both.

When we talk about a “law and order” political candidate, we mean a candidate who upholds law and order for everyone. The ingrained way of immediately dividing between black and blue brought us to Dallas. We can’t go on that way.

The new way is the way our Founding Fathers laid out for us: equality before the law. We’ve strayed from it. We can no longer paint all police as bigoted or all citizens shot by a policeman as criminals. Equality before the law — for black and blue, for all hues. The new way is to hold on to hope.

We have a problem that cannot be solved until we abandon our hardened positions, reject the politicians who would keep them and work to rebuild trust, decency, civility, tolerance and the respect for the rule of law.

Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.