By James Lomeo
Recent occurrences in Ferguson and New York have sparked protests across the country. On Monday, SMU students participated in a “Die-in” protest. Many participants in such protests have claimed that the two recent high-profile white on black shootings represent the issue of racism in America. Others have claimed the shootings represent the increase in police brutality to American citizens. I respectfully disagree with both claims. The issue is much more serious than racism or police brutality. These publicized deaths illustrate a grave inability to respect one’s neighbors.
A lack of mutual respect was present in the Michael Brown and Ferguson police encounter. When Michael Brown was approached by Ferguson police, it is not disputed that a confrontation ensued between Brown and Ferguson police. Likewise, a confrontation can be seen from the video between NYPD and Eric Garner.
While Brown and Garner clearly disrespected law enforcement personnel, the police also failed to display respect to the individuals. Each scenario resulted in the loss of life. Any destruction of life exhibits, on some level, a lack of respect for life.
Focusing on issues such as race and police brutality are unlikely to put a permanent end to situations that include a lack of respect such as Ferguson and New York. While I support the right to free speech, protests on these issues only perpetuate divisive attitudes within society: citizens verses cops and whites verses blacks. In order to make any progress, society needs a uniting message that doesn’t promote divisive rhetoric.
Such unification must come from an idea that everyone can agree upon: mutual respect. No single person can enforce mutual respect upon an entire population. However, each demographic in society can take action to ensure they respect everyone. For example, Citizens can display respect to police officers during lawful encounters by following all commands and treating the officers with dignity. Likewise, this can be achieved by officers by utilizing non-lethal force in the instances where force becomes necessary.
The idea of mutual respect is not just limited to law enforcement circumstances. The notion should be applied in everyday life such as driving, walking to class or by participating in charitable works. Perhaps people who are motivated to action by these recent issues can use the motivation to make a positive impact on their communities. Rather than spending time laying on the ground in protest, demonstrators should aim to make a bigger impact by engaging in uplifting positive action.
While the issues at hand are emotional, that should not be an excuse for unconstructive action. Protestors can make a more lasting impact through exhibiting mutual respect. Hopefully, citizens and community leaders can use these events and the upcoming holiday season unite upon a message of promoting mutual respect.