Editorial: More powerful than guns: Talk, training, respect

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When shots shattered the peace of a just-concluded protest rally Thursday night, a Dallas police officer pushed a man away from harm.

Of course, that kind of quick, life-saving competence happened many times over — not just to the bystander whose story lasts but half a sentence in a long and gripping Washington Post report.

That’s what police officers do. Something bad happens, or unusual or suspicious, and police training jumps in like instinct.

In Worcester, in Texas and throughout the nation, police officers are saving lives and ready to rush to risky situations.

Gov. Charlie Baker was busy Friday, here pausing with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for a moment of silence to honor the victims of this week's shooting tragedies in Texas, Minnesota and Louisiana.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker was busy Friday, here pausing with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for a moment of silence to honor the victims of this week’s shooting tragedies in Texas, Minnesota and Louisiana.

We’re fortunate to have the protection of these capable, armed, alert men and women in uniform. We’re blessed to live in a country where people can gather in mass protests against serious lapses in police conduct, and still have police there to protect them and our system.

To be blunt, though, police can do better.

And after an awful week — Tuesday, a black man killed by police in Louisiana; Wednesday, a black man killed by police in Minnesota, while there was a child in the back seat of the car; Thursday, a black man gunning down white police officers in Dallas, killing five and wounding others — it is again starkly clear that our country has debilitating problems with racism and violence.

We can’t ignore this, turn our heads, or expect others to stop it.

We need to use and sharpen our instincts toward human decency, connection and peace.

Racism has caused hating and killing for as long as we remember. Undeniable video evidence of police errors and brutality has rolled out in recent months, one horrible instance after another. And day after day, guns do too much of the talking.

But community by community, we have numbers and goodness on our side. The bloodshed in these latest tragedies, and the motivations behind the shootings, are not what the vast majority of us want or believe in.

Cooler heads can and do prevail.

The shocks and sorrow of last week underscore the wisdom of last year’s community dialogues on race in Worcester.

There’s no overestimating the power in listening and discussing. We again urge the city to renew these extraordinary sessions, which last summer were facilitated by federal, state and local leaders for seven well-attended evenings.

Regular — we suggest quarterly — dialogues open to everyone, to discuss the issues that can simmer in the dark, could be organized and moderated purely at the local level. The United Way, the city manager’s Quality of Life Task Force and other dedicated groups could be asked to take on the task.

Police forces everywhere, meanwhile, need to examine themselves for weaknesses in their effectiveness.

We emphatically agree with President Obama that there’s “no possible justification” for Thursday’s shootings. And it’s not just Thursday night’s targeting of white police officers by a sniper in Dallas that we’re dealing with; violence against police has risen sharply this year in the United States.

Locally in May, Auburn Police Officer Ronald Tarentino Jr., 42, was shot dead during a traffic stop.

Daily, police do a most difficult job on our behalf. Further, in all their many functions, police officers stand for the law and order that make us safer and allow us to pursue our livelihoods and aspirations.

Violence against police is intolerable.

Concern, however, is understandable.

Though most police officers conduct themselves honorably, we have seen — in both traditional news sources and the rawness of social media — rare but appalling instances of apparent police brutality around the country. Firearms, emotion, power, bias, lapses in hiring and training, and a professional culture that can allow for shielding from accountability can be a dangerous mix.

Worcester’s new police chief, Steven Sargent, sworn in two months ago, has a job that requires wisdom; honest and open communication; and support and cooperation.

But as Dallas showed us, any police department and officer is vulnerable to a lone madman with a weapons stash, and that’s where the need for tighter gun regulations and enforcement comes in.

As has been noted by numerous Americans, horror after horror, the easy availability of guns, including military-style assault weapons, is exasperating and frightening.

And each instance of gun violence serves to lay some groundwork for the next. They form a creep toward a “new normal” that Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Friday urged Americans to reject.

Indeed, we can fight this. The pattern of action-reaction-escalation can be broken through lack of participation. That’s the goal of peaceful demonstrations such as the one in Dallas Thursday and ones held in Worcester over the years, including Friday.

But we needn’t march our hearts out in public to be effective in creating the better world we crave.

Myriad small measures we can take as individuals and a community can tone down the trigger points, as well as prepare us when emergencies strike. One good place to start is to make sure we’re seeing well past skin color and other superficial qualities when we interact with one another.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said Friday on NBC’s Today Show: “This is a terrible blow to the city of Dallas. It’s a terrible blow to the United States of America, and it calls for us to come together at this time and hopefully love one another deeply.”

During a news conference the day after the shootings, Dallas Police Chief David Brown implored: “We don’t feel much support most days. Let’s not make today most days. Please, we need your support to protect you from men like these, who carried out this tragic, tragic event.”

Gov. Charlie Baker had this to say to reporters Friday, according to State House News Service: “The innocent people who died [last] week in Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas were somebody’s son, daughter, father, friend, sibling. For all the yelling and screaming and all the blame that’s going to get thrown around in the next 24 to 48 hours, the people who lost somebody who mattered to them — that is all going to seem pretty cheap.”

Gov. Baker is right. Chief Brown is right. Mayor Rawlings is right, as are so many voices that have spoken eloquently out of the shock of the past few days.

Life is precious. We all still have ours. Let’s hear through the noise of events like last week’s, and keep peace in our hearts.

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