What the Killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile Really Signify

Had American racism occurred in exact reverse, with whites being the victims of slavery, terrible Jim Crow abuses, and the soul-devouring hopelessness of festering ghettos and barren reservations where jobs are rare or nonexistent, wouldn’t many of us have turned to crime or drug dealing to survive?

In fact, in circumstances lacking a racial factor, as in economically devastated Appalachia,  mass dysfunction associated with heroin use has reached epidemic proportions.

So let’s stop using the broad-brush “thug” characterization as a basis for believing that a decades-long pattern of police murders of young blacks is just “those people” getting what they supposedly deserve.

If 12-year-old Tamir Rice had been a Caucasian child with a toy gun in a Cleveland park, he wouldn’t have been shot dead by arriving cops in less than a heartbeat.  Instead, they’d have likely said, “Run along, son. It’s time you got home.”

Throughout my entire adult life, I’ve been painfully aware that police brutality is a scourge with which communities of color must fearfully contend.  What’s more, that wrongdoing arises from a very ugly underlying evil.

While still in elementary school, some friends and I were on a street corner when a teenager passed by.  One boy whispered, “That’s (name withheld).  He killed a ****er with a sharp stick.”  Incredibly, everyone laughed.  That was back in the middle 1950s.

Today we’re confronted with horrifying videos of the slayings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in a Minneapolis suburb.

A crucial truth needs to sink in:

If our reaction isn’t to finally end such slaughter, then America itself is spiritually dead, beyond any possibility of resurrection.

Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, Wisconsin, has been writing progressive commentary with a Heartland perspective for various outlets since the '60s. Read other articles by Dennis.