Every year we join my husband’s family in Florida over the 4th of July holiday week, to reconnect with family members who travel from Texas, New Jersey, Ohio and Georgia to be together. It’s a wonderful tradition and an escape from reality – but this year we could not escape the news of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police officers, followed by the ambush and deaths of police officers in Dallas.
This year my brother-in-law couldn’t join us, because he was recovering from a concussion he suffered when he was broadsided a few weeks ago in his cruiser. A former Marine, he has worked in law enforcement for over 15 years, and as a New Jersey trooper he’s been shot at many times. His wife and six children worry about him when he leaves for work. I’m sure his appearance inspires fear in many people, with his 6 foot 2” Marine build and shaved head. But he’s as polite, kind and gentle as they come. After the accident, he immediately got out of the cruiser to see if the people in the other car were injured, despite his broken foot and head injury.
My nephew from Texas was able to be with us for the week. I watched him play in the ocean after the video of Philando Castile’s death reached us, and wondered if his dark skin will put him at risk some night as he drives home from a friend’s house. He’s Hispanic, tall and solidly built, and at 10 years old he already looks like he’s 14. When he’s older, will his appearance inspire fear and mistrust in the hearts of people who want us to build a wall at our southern border?
Our society is built on trust. At the most fundamental level, I trust that I will be able to leave my house each morning and safely make it to work without fearing for my life due to snipers, suicide bombers, or a corrupt police force. It’s something I take for granted. Events over the past several years support the feelings of many people who do not feel safe due to the color of their skin or the place where they worship.
At the same time, my brother-in-law and others who work in law enforcement are now under intense scrutiny, even while they risk their lives to protect us. If we can’t trust each other on fundamental levels of safety, our society will continue to suffer.
Even before the events of this past week, this election year’s rhetoric of us vs. them is cause for deep concern. Politicians have been fanning the flames of distrust among people of different religions, races and socioeconomic backgrounds, working to benefit from the anger that seems to have permeated our political system. Mistrust won’t stop within the boundaries we set for it today; it will grow like a cancer into every aspect of our lives if we let it.
Trust, empathy, and respect for others who are different than us is necessary in a free society, and even critical for the success of our entire financial system. If I chose to trust only people who look and think like me, how can I own stock in global companies, buy products from overseas manufacturers or bank with any bank? Britain has already experienced the financial impact of an isolationist approach to economics and immigration, with its choice to exit the European Union.
We are better than this.
I don’t have the answers. But I’m going to work to be part of the solution by stopping to listen to others’ opinions – really listen – and consider their personal experiences and perspective before jumping to judgement. It’s a start.