The pain I feel for the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling has not subsided since I learned that five Dallas officers had been fatally shot in their name. In fact, the pain has been multiplied by five. The news broke for me Thursday night on social media. Cops were being shot at a march in Dallas. The number of casualties grew, and in the end, five police officers had been murdered and six more injured.
The news of Sterling’s and Castile's deaths also broke on social media: Sterling's death was seen in a video that I still can't bring myself to watch; and if you were on Facebook at the time of Castile's death, you were able to witness him slip away live. That's who we are now—or, more succinctly, that's where we are now.
Death isn't distant anymore; it's broadcast, shared and retweeted. We now have to learn to multitask our pain while keeping focused on the agenda. We can demand that we are policed properly under the mandate of the law, and demand that minor infractions not lead to black death, and grieve the loss of police lives. What cannot be lost in this most recent tragedy are the deaths of Sterling and Castile and the systemic issues of aggressive policing and the inherit bias and racism that surround it. America has a way of minimizing black life when it’s up against cop life, and this, too, has to stop.
Make no mistake—I am firmly in the Black Lives Matter camp. While I believe in that message, I am not anti-cop. I do believe that some officers approach situations involving black people with bias. I believe that this bias can lead to overreactions, and I also believe that black men, women and children are dead because of it. I, like the majority of BLM activists and protesters, want this to end, but we also don't want police to die as retribution.
I am against senseless killing. My heart breaks for the families of Sterling and Castile just as much as it breaks for the families of the officers who were gunned down trying to protect peaceful protesters. When you murder in the name of Black Lives Matter, you are not only sullying a movement that is working to undo years of systemic and judicial racism, but also damaging the work that has been done. Since the beginning of time, America has had a way of making black movements into terroristlike organizations. Ask the Black Panthers and the MOVE organization.
Doesn't matter that shooting and killing officers goes completely against BLM doctrine—countless talking heads are insisting that this shooting was not only spawned by the movement’s speeches but also encouraged by BLM activists’ insistence on gathering to demand justice. The same talking heads will also insist that no police are racist, impulsive thugs. This isn't the time for divisive rhetoric, since it's important to realize what is at stake. It's in our best interests as a nation to encourage healthy dialogue, not ratings-driven hate speech that continues to pour kerosene on a blaze that needs to die down.
Black Lives Matter is not a violent group; it is an equal rights organization that actually believes in gun control and therefore having fewer guns on the street. If you are killing in the name of BLM, then the movement doesn't need you. In the same vein, good officers don't need these trigger-happy racists firing first and figuring out later.
When it comes to grief, we don't have to choose a side; we can grieve both. We can be sad that Castile died tragically in front of his family and be just as sad that DART Officer Brent Thompson, 43, was still beaming over his recent marriage, and now he's gone. These are deaths that could have been avoided; these lives that didn't have to be lost are not mutually exclusive.
I can guarantee that Castile's fiancee, Diamond Reynolds, doesn't feel any better today in learning that five officers in Dallas have lost their lives. Alton Sterling’s family has already come out to denounce the vicious act of cowardice.
No matter how it feels, this isn't BLM vs. cops. This isn't white vs. black. This isn't even us vs. them. The score is not even. We are all losing. In fact, historically, it feels as if we are at a critical point where, if we don't come together, the divide will be too great. Sides are being chosen, weapons are being drawn and lives—too many lives—are being lost.
Let me also add that this isn't the time for goading on social media. You have no idea the pain we are all feeling from this. We are raw. Your words are cutting, and you're poking the bear. It's a time for healing. If you bring nothing healthy to this conversation, then please, for the sake of all of us, back away, because that's where we are now, and the option to turn back is becoming less possible. As a microwavable, social media, insta-depressive society, where even our feelings need filters and hashtags, we are moving toward a fragmented self, guided by violent exhaustion, where justice is starting to look more and more fuzzy.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a senior editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.