Regardless of your race, gender, occupation or political affiliation, I
think we can all agree that our country, our beloved America, is in trouble. We’re divided and fighting one another while ISIS continues to wage war on all of us.

It affects all of us, and it needs to be discussed. That’s why Terrance Turner and I decided to open the dialogue with an honest discussion on the horror that has plagued America in recent weeks. This is our conversation.

JUSTIN ALBERS: My thoughts are: I think the media and Barack Obama are as much to blame for the divide that we now have and the police shootings as anybody else. Are there bad cops? No question. There’s no question that African Americans get pulled over for reasons such as they’re driving a nice car. The latest police shootings of young black men are troubling. But I don’t believe the percentage of bad or racist cops is any higher than the percentage of bad or racist employees in any field. There are bad doctors, bad teachers, bad CEOs, etc. The percentage in each field is small, and it’s easy to forget that the overwhelming majority of cops are good, hard-working people whose job it is to protect us.

Why do I blame the media and Obama? Because they’ve both been premature and irresponsible in their responses to questionable police shootings. Obama has condemned such shootings before all of the facts are available and before the the case has been decided by the criminal justice system. In many cases in the past, Obama has condemned shootings that were later proven to be justified in court. The media covers such shootings to such a degree that it exaggerates the issue. That is to say, they make Americans believe that there are many more bad cops than there actually are, and it creates a public distrust and outrage of police.

These are such issues because the vast majority of Americans are mostly uneducated when it comes to this issue, these cases, and the facts that go with them. Most people only see a headline on their Facebook page or see a video posted to social media that often shows only part of the incident in question and thus should not be used to come to a conclusion because the full context is unknown. But people see these headlines and they see these videos, and they form a strong opinion based off only that and never take the time to listen to the facts of the case.

If the courts find a shooting to be justified, these headline readers riot when, in some cases, their stance would be very different if they watched the case and listened to the facts. The jumping to conclusions is a bad idea and a divisive one, and our media and President often compound the issue. For instance, the Michael Brown case in Ferguson. It was proven in court that the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” was a fabricated story and Brown, in fact, was reaching for the officer’s gun. Yet when you see some Black Lives Movement protests today, there are still people chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot!”

I have never walked the shoes of an African American man, and so I cannot relate. And I don’t blame these police shootings (Dallas, Baton Rouge, etc.) on African Americans. There are unstable, mentally ill people all over the country just waiting for something to push them over the edge. In the cases of Dallas and Baton Rouge, these unstable people were pushed over the edge by recent police shootings of African Americans. The criminalization of all cops based on the actions of a few is as ridiculous and sad as the criminalization of all black people based on the crimes of a few. It’s dangerous, and it’s dividing us by our race. This is especially troubling when considering the radicals on both sides, who would like nothing more than to create a race war in a country that has mostly been making positive steps in the last 50 years.

Whites and blacks are more divided today than they have been in my lifetime, and that is a scary, scary thing. We are fighting one another, our fellow brothers and sisters, our fellow Americans. Meanwhile, ISIS — our true enemy — continues to grow and create havoc. To make America the place it once was and should be, we have to learn to come together to be one people by taking the time to listen to the feelings and opinions of those of another race rather than dismissing them altogether.

Shut your mouth, close your eyes, and listen to the African Americans who have experienced things in their lives that we cannot understand as the privileged white race. Attempt, as best you can, to put yourself in their shoes just for a minute. Think about where they are coming from. Take the time to listen to and learn about the real issues burdening them, and the problems they have with us as they relate to those issues. Instead of protesting and fighting and killing one another, sit down with whites and blacks in your communities and have a discussion. Share your view of things, and take the time to listen to theirs. I am ashamed with where we are as a country, and I am scared things may get worse.

TERRANCE TURNER: Good start! You make some good points and you have reasoning behind the points you were making.

My thoughts: There’s no one person or entity to blame. To me, this is a systematic problem. But with that said, systematically speaking, our justice system is, at times, broken and simply unjust. Police officers have an abundance of power and as I agree that a majority of officers are fair and just, there are certainly some bad apples. There’s also a long history of police officers, stemming from the 40’s and 50’s, being utilized as aggressive authoritative figures used to protect white citizens and keep divide between the two races. I say that our justice system is unjust and unfair at times simply because the “rules” and laws seem to morph depending on your socioeconomic background.

For example, if there’s an individual that lives in an impoverished area, and you are in possession of “crack”, there’s a chance you could be facing an extensive amount of time in prison. You are left with limited amount of options (lawyers, etc.) due to your lack of money and now you are left with two options: hope that the court-appointed lawyer represents you in your best interest and/or take a plea deal–either way, both have a high chance of landing you in jail or on probation.

On the other side of the coin, you could have an individual that lives in an affluent area, comes from money and they are caught in the possession of “cocaine*, their options are totally different. They can hire a prominent and effective lawyer, which more than likely leads to better representation and a better chance that they do not face jail time. Now this is one example, but it does seem like things are heavily in the favor of the individual that lives and comes from the more affluent area.

Crack (more prevalent in urban areas, usually) can get you 20 years to life, dependent on circumstances. Cocaine (found in more affluent areas, usually) is punishable by probation or 1/5th of the jail time. That is simply unfair and things seem to swing heavily in the favor of the individual that comes from the affluent area more so than the one from the urban area. Crack and cocaine are the same drug, same substance, the only difference being in how the substance is made and price.

Now to take things in the context of the police shootings: I feel that police officers have great power, and with power comes responsibility. A majority of police offers do a wonderful job of utilizing their power only when needed and in the correct, proper circumstances. Some, a small percentage, take advantage of this power and that’s where this problem lies. But one could also point to the teachings of “shoot to kill” that officers are taught. I truly feel police officers should rework certain practices of how they deal with certain issues with citizens, especially when arresting a citizen. The way things are handled now clearly are not working and it’s resulting in far too many deaths. Police are meant to “protect & serve”. But if you ask some members of the black/brown or urban community, it surely doesn’t always feel that way. Now again, 99% of police officers are great, upstanding people that do their job as desired. But like you said, there are clearly ones that are bad apples.

No citizen should fear for their life during a routine traffic stop. But the “shoot to kill” mentality by police officers when they feel threatened leads to those cases happening.

JUSTIN ALBERS:  Do you, as a black man, fear that you will be unfairly treated by police officers, and if so, does this fear significantly differ from the fear that you will be unfairly treated by white people in general, not just police officers? What has been your reaction, and the reactions of those close to you, to the two recent shootings of young African Americans by police offers and subsequently the shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge by African American men?

TERRANCE TURNER: I would not say that I fear being treated unfairly, I am just aware of the possibility of it happening. When I deal with a police officer, I do my utmost best to show them respect. I do take extra caution in a night setting with a police officer because I want to make sure that no misunderstandings happen, which could leave to a bad ending. I’ve also always been taught to be cautious and overly respectful to police officers by my parents. They’ve fully prepared me for any interaction that I’d have with an officer.

As far as a fear of being mistreated by others outside my race, I wholeheartedly and truly do not let it affect me. I have grown up with friends of all races and I truly feel that a great majority of people are good. My reaction (and the general reaction by my family/friends) to the police shooting of citizens is simply heart-broken and angered. I feel no one should lose their life during a routine traffic stop. They not only end that person’s life, but they cause the loss for a parent or child of someone which clearly has an everlasting negative affect on their families.

JUSTIN ALBERS: Are you concerned about current race relations, and what do you think we do to improve them?

TERRANCE TURNER: I am concerned, especially if we don’t make changes. I do not have all the answers and I certainly won’t act as if I do. But any change that will occur needs to start with the government and how things are handled and trickle down from there.

How do you feel we can improve?

JUSTIN ALBERS: A number of ways. First, like I mentioned before, is getting together with those of other races and backgrounds within our own communities and discussing the issues with one another just as you and I are doing here. Communication is among the most important tools we have as humans, and it’s not used nearly often enough.

Second, I’d like to see the media cover and report on stories in which race relations are good and blacks and whites are working together to achieve great things. It’s happening, but bad news sells, so we don’t see or hear about the good things going on in our communities like we should. That’s unrealistic to expect of the media, I know.

I’d also like to see us as a people stop rushing to judgment so often without all the facts. I know it’s human nature to form an immediate opinion, but that doesn’t mean you have to share it with all the world right away. Wait, listen, learn the facts, then speak out. That includes the President and the media, especially. I know there are fearful African Americans around the country, but there are also terrified police officers and families of police officers. They put their lives on the line and that’s part of the job, but they shouldn’t have to fear for their lives when they walk out their front doors in the morning.

I actually disagree with you that we should approach it as a trickle down — I think we should actually look to trickle up. I think community leaders need to be proactive in creating situations where the citizens and police officers can interact in normal situations on a more regular basis. It will allow people the opportunity to get to know the officers who serve them, and vice versa, and will go a long way in building a mutual trust, in my opinion. Police officers are people just like the rest of us. There’s no reason the only time people should interact with them is when they are involved in a situation in which the police are called.

This is a national issue, yes, but the incidents themselves happen in communities. It’s important that individual communities discuss their issues and work together to rebuild, in my opinion.

TERRANCE TURNER: I really like your response, it makes an incredible amount of sense. I say we post it!