Will this time be different? Depends.
The killing of an African-American man named George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer has set off protests, along with some rioting and looting, in cities across America. Sustained protests, rather than the one-and-done versions of the past, suggest something durable is afoot. The call for racial justice is loud, and demands for change are specific. It feels like we’ve been here many times before, but we may be on the brink of something new and good.
I have never seen so many white people turning up in the streets and tuning in on their screens. They are using phrases like “End Systemic Racism,” “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” with fluency. They are learning to listen to the stories of black neighbors and to let black activists lead. This is different.
Faith leaders in Dallas are reaching out from their siloed groupings — Jews, Christians and Muslims; conservative, moderate and progressive; black, brown and white — and finding common cause. Even white and black evangelical Christians are speaking up together, recognizing that silence has been complicity. Faith communities are not just incubators for eternity. They are agents of eternity now.
Dallas is a deeply segregated city, which black and Latin residents feel daily. White residents seldom see it. When 85 percent of the tax base is in the predominantly white side north of Interstate 30, something is amiss.
This didn’t happen by accident. North Dallas residents aren’t more genetically predisposed to hard work and success than those in South Dallas. In the 100-yard dash to prosperity, we didn’t all have the same starting line. Yet the myth of equal opportunity continues to rule our everyday lives.
If this time is different, things have to change in Dallas. Hearts are changing, but things have to change before hearts. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” He didn’t say, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” We have to get the treasure right — the budget — and then our hearts will follow. We have deliberately invested in white communities and divested black and brown ones. We need a virtual Marshall Plan to build up those intentionally deprived communities.
Shifting significant funds from public safety — a whopping 61 percent of the city budget — to economic development in underserved neighborhoods is a start. “Defend police” and “defund police” are not mutually exclusive. Police themselves complain about mission drift. Law enforcement officers are asked to be mental health workers and social workers. If we have more of the latter, police can focus on their core role.
Movement toward policy changes in policing are taking place already, such as outlawing chokeholds and holding officers accountable for their fellow officers. More are needed. Until policing, prosecution, bail bonding and sentencing are colorblind, we have work to do. If we do it, we will know this time was different.