In a different America — not necessarily a better or perfect America, just a different one — our country’s reaction to Alton Sterling’s death at the hands of Baton Rouge police might be enough.
In a different America, we would awake to the news of Philando Castile’s death in Minnesota with the same shock we felt when another plane hit the Twin Towers, with the same feeling of dread when Bobby Kennedy was killed, with the same feeling of helplessness when the bomb went off at the Boston finish line.
In a different America, the Republican House caucus would take up the matter of police brutality against African Americans, opening an investigation into this startling trend made public thanks to vigilant citizens and their cell phone cameras. Speaker Paul Ryan would gavel Congress into a special session so that our country might pause together in a moment of silence to remember Alton and Philando and their families, and others who unjustly died at the hands of justice and their families.
Meanwhile, House Democrats, following their valiant sit-in around gun control measures, would partner with the Fraternal Order of Police and other national organizations and introduce legislation that provided federal funding for better law enforcement training and improved officer salaries.
In a different America, the National Rifle Association would hold a precedent-setting joint press conference with the NAACP to raise the righteous question of why Castile was shot even after he informed police he was legally carrying. Cornell Brooks and Wayne LaPierre would stand shoulder to shoulder, urging authorities to examine their protocols for traffic stops involving legally armed Americans, especially those who are only suspected of crime because of their color. With breathtaking alacrity, the NRA would engage its massive lobbying arm to bring transparency and accountability to law enforcement, all while the NAACP led a bi-partisan effort to clear the streets of illegal firearms.
In a different America, the Department of Justice would make it clear that these police officers are not worthy of holding their title, that in their work to increase officer safety and provide better resources to officers on patrol they will also issue a mandate that every officer who unjustly takes a life will endure the full reciprocity of the law.
In a different America, every CEO of every leading corporation in every state would threaten to leave our country if African Americans continued to be more at risk in the hands of our police than other groups.
In a different America, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family would lead a nation-wide effort among evangelicals to embrace surviving family members of those killed by police brutality, offering grieving spouses financial assistance, establishing scholarship funds for children, publishing a list of the dead so that the faithful can hold them in the light of their prayers. The Rev. Franklin Graham would stand arm in arm with African American community leaders in every city where rogue police officers claimed the lives of victims guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, marching tirelessly with the Rev. Al Sharpton to demand justice and restore peace.
In a different America, the #AllLivesMatter movement would momentarily decamp their work in inner-city Chicago, where they had been engaged with community improvement, helping to create safe pathways to public schools, establishing community centers to lift people from poverty, partnering with local faith-based entities to bring better funding and national attention to programs that help transition gang members back into the community.
In a different America, African Americans wouldn’t hesitate before picking up the phone to call 911. They would have alternatives besides streaming video live on Facebook to capture their pleas, their prayers that he doesn’t die, their responses to officers still holding guns punctuated by an aching politeness, “yes sir, I will sir, no worries, I will,” a dignified voice in the face of indignity.
In a different America, I wouldn’t have to write this story this way. I would have better words, more wisdom, and a clearer empathy in my grief than what I’ve just put down. Because this isn’t enough. We all woke up in the same America this morning, and another African American man was shot and killed by a police officer. In a different America, though, that would mean outrage. It would mean a commitment from every facet of this democratic society to end this kind of violence. It would invoke an American faith that superseded partisanship and racial divide and class differences.
Today we have the chance to make America different. What will you do?