For a moment last week, the national consciousness had once again turned to the epidemic of police brutality against minority populations in America. Sparked by the deaths of two men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two fathers who had their murders by police broadcast for all the world to see in horrific detail.
An outpouring of grief and sympathy flooded social media. Activists, celebrities and President Obama himself condemned the pattern of excessive use of force by police departments across the country. Protesters flooded the streets across the country, frustrated by the constant cycle of violence and non-indictments.
But in a moment, everything changed.
The Dallas shootings — the largest loss of police officer life since 9/11 — shocked the nation. A peaceful protest, where little hostility existed between police and protesters, turned into a nightmare when a sniper opened fire, killing five police officers and injuring another seven. But this tragic loss of life should not distract from the real record of violence against populations who are fighting for justice.
Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick blamed the shootings on the Black Lives Matter movement, claiming that their hatred towards the police incited this violence. Others suggested that protestors’ supposedly divisive and harmful rhetoric was the cause.
Micah Johnson, the man identified as the suspect in the shootings was unaffiliated with Black Lives Matter, although he was loosely associated with hate groups that advocated violence against white and Jewish people. But Black Lives Matter — which advocates for the empowerment of black people and attempts to address anti-black racism — condemned the shootings, and have distanced themselves from the attack by writing that they call for a decrease in violence.
The killing of the Dallas police officers was tragic, but the basic fact that police departments across the country suffer from a problem of using excessive force is unchanged. Police officer deaths by gunfire — 42 in 2015 — are significantly lower than civilian death by police gunfire — 900 in 2015.
We cannot become desensitized to the senseless murder of civilians, disproportionately of unarmed black men, by the police. As a nation, we cannot accept as a fact that as a result of the shootings, police officers may be more insecure and shoot — not when they have demonstrated they can de-escalate in the presence of white people.
There is hope for progress, especially in a city like Dallas which has seen some healing in the rift between the police and the black community, with reports of excessive force by police going down. President Obama called for unity, but we must also continue to have conversations about training police officers to de-escalate. We must change police culture so that unconscious racial biases are corrected, starting with the way officers are trained. We must invest more money in initiatives that better our society, like mental health care and drug addiction rehabilitation, rather than leave these issues to the police.
When only a privileged segment of the population has the luxury of feeling safe around those who have sworn to serve and protect, we have an imperative to make changes.
Nemawarkar is a Plan II, government and psychology sophomore from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @janhavin97.