On September 11, 2018, I had the pleasure of participating in a stimulating discussion on The Black and The Blue and issues of social justice that continue to plague us in the 21st century. The authors of the book, Matthew Horace and Ron Harris, have delved into the militarization of American policing, lack of community policing, and the implicit bias that legitimizes racial profiling and the criminalization of African-Americans within the country’s criminal justice system. This book challenges the reader to confront the lop-sidedness of America’s law enforcement and also encourages the reader to recognize the clout that the local community can exercise, and to think constructively about reform.
The Black and The Blue does not reductively whitewash the unspoken rules of American policing but attempts to make historically marginalized black communities visible, and thereby articulates a submerged voice. The reader is made privy to the perspective, historical context, and traditions of those who have been silenced by institutionalized racism and systemic oppression. The co-authors, Harris and Horace, shake the moral fabric of society by keenly observing the history of abusive police practices in America. This well-researched book is an act of resistance to the dehumanizing aspects of law enforcement and policing and is a forceful attempt to negotiate with entrenched ideological structures that continue to reinforce racial divides. Harris pointed out that this book gives “breath to those whose reality is foreign to the wealthy and the privileged.” An insightful and motivated reader sees the need to bring about long-term reforms in policing and law enforcement policies and methods. Quality education, skills, and employment are highlighted as viable responses to increasing crime, substance abuse, and questionable policing issues.
As I have observed in my public lectures and articles, I have seen the increase in polarization and fragmentation that we have been witnessing for over a decade. The rhetoric of hate that is palpable the world over undermines the traditional notion of social justice, rule of law, a return to the process of internal political dialogue, and political accommodation in a democratic nation. We still have a lot of work to do in order to repair schisms. Democracy does not limit itself to numbers or majoritarian rule, but to substance. There is no room for the subjection of racial/ religious/ ethnic minorities to a centralized and authoritarian state in a democratic nation. Democratic growth and evolution cannot be sacrificed at the altar of a culture of arrogance, which is bred by ignorance.
The conversation about the book and social justice, organized by Ayanna Najuma, reminded me that community is much greater than mere dogma or tradition. Najuma was one of the African-American children who participated in the sit-in movement in Oklahoma in 1958.
I talked with some of the participants at the discussion. Here are their observations:
Ron Harris’s book The Black & the Blue was an excellent and timely choice for discussion. Ayanna Najuma and audience members asked important questions and Harris shared valuable information through very engaging stories. This dialogue was an impressive way to launch the conversational platform on social justice series ‘What Lies Between Us’”
~ Joan Korenblit, Executive Director, Respect Diversity Foundation.
Ayanna Najuma is always thoughtful and provocative. The presentation was most educational as well as an excellent starting point for this important conversation about changing our Oklahoma City community”
~ Sherry Sullivan, Attorney at Law.
I have learned that community is the ability to organize and mobilize for social change, which requires the creation of awareness not just at the individual level but at the collective level as well. Community is the courage to bridge divides and to pave the way for the education of the younger generation, which is the only viable response to ignorance and bigotry.
Community is the openness to diverse opinions, dissent, and differences of opinion, which is true grit. At the book discussion, I saw shared consent on the fundamental principles of humanity, compassion, empathy, and open-mindedness, which blurs the divide between “us” and “them.”