SMH — that digital acronym our kids use for “shaking my head” — has to be the reaction so many of us felt when hearing the painful stories from Dallas and elsewhere about African-Americans setting out to slay white cops as “payback” for injustices, real and perceived, simply because they were white cops.
What an awful thing!
And what an awful society we’ve become!
Injustice in the name of justice surely is as wrong as injustice for the purpose of injustice.
And where does this latest painful episode in recent American race relations bring us?
In particular, what does it mean to us here in Delaware? And what, too, are the implications for the civic and business leaders who may be reading this?
We kid ourselves if we don’t realize that the shootings of 12 uniformed officers, five of them fatal, that happened July 7 in Dallas could not have happened anywhere. Yes, indeed, it just as easily could have happened right here in Delaware.
As a young reporter, I covered for the News Journal papers in August 1975 Delaware’s last-ever “race riot,” as we called it then. It followed the arrest and charging of a young white man who had shot and critically injured a young black teenager, who subsequently died.
John H. Bailey, 24, had bought a house in town which he was fixing up to live in, at some great cash and sweat equity expense to himself. Thieves and vandals regularly damaged his property at nights when he was not there, often stealing materials as well. Despite his complaints, police never apprehended anyone.
Staying overnight at the property Aug. 17, he heard vandals in a fruit tree adjacent to his house. He fired a random shot in that direction and Sheila Farrell, 13, one of four or five kids reportedly stealing from the property, dropped to the ground with what proved to be a fatal gunshot wound.
Arrested and charged with attempted murder, he posted the $30,000 bond set by Municipal Judge Carl Goldstein. Black community leaders were outraged, and Goldstein raised the bail to $130,000, to which Bailey posted property. In about a week, the young woman died, while Bailey remained free on bail, and the criminal charge was not immediately raised to murder.
Some seven people were arrested over the course of week of public protests that brought great disorder and even some property damage.
Although I was stationed in Dover, editors John Taylor and Harry Themal asked me to come up and assist in coverage, because I had previous experience in anti-war and campus riot coverage in Illinois.
I recall that I walked shoulder-to-shoulder with a police line — they in tactical riot gear with helmets and face shields, me in a sport jacket and tie, with pencil and paper — as the Wilmington Police Department one night faced bottle and rock throwing as they pushed a crowd of protesters back up North Market Street.
While I lived with no delusion that any utopia of racial harmony had arrived, I guess I’d felt that the work that so many of us had done as young progressives in the 1960s through the 1970s, that tended to erase structural racism under color of law had accomplished much, actually much of what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had asked.
But I never had kidded myself that racist feelings and emotions could be as easily fixed, nor could they necessarily be extricated from how people work and live.
Today, we face the consequences of the reduction of the issue of structural racism to more abstract forms.
And, worse, today, at least in Delaware, we seem to be going into the battle against this evil with neither the strategy, the arms nor the tools to make progress.
Our Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, for a couple of decades a powerful instrument for people of good will, has not yet been brought back from the atrophy it suffered under a recent executive director. The Rotary Club of Wilmington has set a 2nd Century Initiative to make Wilmington a “world class city,” but it’s a volunteer effort with limited resources and reach.
For too many others, it’s seen simply as a Public Safety issue to be managed.
At its heart, in our city, and in our state, on one side, it’s a social pathology of single-parent families, poverty and joblessness, gangs where the drug industry seems too lucrative to ignore, recidivism, and a failure not only of education, but of aspiration.
And, given the anti-social way in which such situations often manifest themselves, given the inevitable concentrations of minority populations in dense areas, it’s too often seen through a Public Safety lens as an issue of race.
I’ve written before, and I’ll go to my grave saying, this is an issue too big and too important for the Business Community to ignore. It must be part of the solution — a solution yet to be defined.
Frankly, until we arrive at a new chapter, we likely need to add another new acronym. SMHT — Shaking my head in tears!