For a moment I expected the lone, young white officer striding down my block to doff his hat and cheerfully respond to my “good evening, officer.” I caught myself. I was born in a small country that was still under British rule when I left in my teens for the United States nearly five decades ago. As I grow older my expectations seem increasingly influenced by the culture in which I was first formed. This officer did not break stride. He did not smile. His eyes cut from mine to some vague thing in the distance as he mumbled, “Good evening.” Bad attitude, I thought. In Guyana, we would say his face was “like lime.” Sour. Was the officer there against his will? Perhaps he was afraid. Perhaps he resented having to patrol a Black neighborhood.
There’s been much talk about training for local police since a Black man in Staten Island, New York, died in July from a white police officer’s choke hold; an unarmed Black teenager was shot to death by a white police officer in the Black suburban town of Ferguson, Missouri, in August; and a 94 percent white police force showed up in full combat gear and with heavy military equipment and tactics to face Blacks protesting nonviolently against the teenager’s killing. Much more than police training and cultural competence are needed to fix the wrong in all this. America needs a prosperity vision for all of its communities, rooted in the conviction that each community, irrespective of demographics, contributes to the country’s strength, and to the influence it wields abroad.
“When journalists and politicians speak of a dwindling middle class that’s under economic assault and a poor community that’s getting bigger, they’re talking about Ferguson. Independent of the racial demographics and dynamics of Ferguson, Missouri, there’s a ‘Ferguson’ near you,” civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. wrote in an opinion piece for USA Today. “Since President Lyndon Johnson, there has been no significant urban, suburban, small-town or rural policy to rebuild America. Thus we should not be surprised that urban and rural communities, and all points in between, have significantly deteriorated during the past 46 years of neglect. Republicans are the party of ‘no’ and Democrats are the party of ‘don’t know’ because it hasn’t fought for bold ideas, policies or plans to turn us in a new direction. Policies of community development are being replaced with policies of community containment. The absence of a domestic Marshall Plan is being replaced with martial law.”
The old dog Jesse can still bark. He continues: “Here’s America today: high unemployment and low graduation rates result in guns and drugs in and jobs out; hospitals and public schools closing; gym, art, music and trade skills taken out of our public schools; inadequate investments being made in our infrastructure with roads crumbling, bridges falling down and an outdated public transportation system; a failure to address climate change; denial of capital investment for entrepreneurs; abandoned homes and vacant lots; a lack of youth recreational opportunities; frivolous entertainment, texting and Twitter replacing serious news reporting, reading, writing and arithmetic; a cutback in funding and a denial of equal opportunity in public jobs such as for teachers, policemen and firemen; all of which leads to hopelessness, despair and cynicism.”
We need a community prosperity vision. United States strength, humanity and moral authority are at stake. So I’m dropping my party affiliation and registering as an Independent.