Austin R. Cooper Jr.ColumnistsOp-EdOpinionUncategorized

COOPER: Race Relations and the Police in America

On the evening of April 4, 1968, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy learned that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had been shot in Memphis as he boarded a plane for Indianapolis. When he landed 25 minutes later, he was informed that Dr. King was dead.

The senator, who was running for president, was in Indianapolis to address a predominantly African-American crowd of several thousands. Word of the tragedy had not reached those assembled.

Several of Kennedy’s aides, as well as the local police chief, urged him not to announce Dr. King’s death for fear of rioting. He was also encouraged not to leave the airport, with the police chief telling him that the Indianapolis Police Department could not ensure his safety if he did not change his plans.

Kennedy decided to proceed to the rally site, where he announced Dr. King’s death. While rioting broke out in numerous cities, there was none in Indianapolis. This was in large part because of words spoken by Kennedy — who himself would be assassinated 63 days later — to the shocked and grieving crowd, who peacefully returned to their homes after he spoke.

Speaking without notes, he said:

“Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and died because of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.

“For those of you who are black — considering the evidence that evidently there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization — black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

“Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

“What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another. And a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”

The recent public executions by law enforcement of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as the sniper attacks on police officers in Dallas, Baton Rouge and elsewhere — innocent American citizens murdered in cold blood — serve as painful reminders that “what we need in the United States is love and wisdom toward one another.”

Unfortunately for African-Americans, abuse and even death at the hands of law enforcement officials dates back to slavery. And now the names of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are added to our history books, alongside Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, James Chaney, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Emmett Till, Harry T. Moore and his wife Harriette, and countless others.

All police officers are not racist. Many of us have interacted with them in a manner that is positive. However, there are SOME arguably who should not be in the profession due to their own strong prejudices. Do not be fooled. Many people — family members, friends, fellow officers and instructors — witnessed unstable and destructive behavior by the two officers involved who executed Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile. They said nothing, which makes them as guilty as those who pulled the triggers.

It should be mandatory for all police officers to wear body cameras. If we are witnessing what we are thanks to these and mobile devices, imagine what we are not. Law enforcement must also do a better job of evaluating candidates applying to police academies. Far too often, they are graduating racist, mentally challenged time bombs and placing them in minority communities.

May we remember the words of Sen. Kennedy on that historic night in Indianapolis: “Let us rededicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savages of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

Austin R. Cooper Jr. is president of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.

Austin R. Cooper Jr. is president of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.

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Austin R. Cooper Jr.

Austin R. Cooper, Jr., is an experienced government affairs and public relations professional. He has over 25 years of related experience and accomplishments working in senior-level positions on Capitol Hill, as a state lobbyist for the City of New York under former Mayor David Dinkins and with Edelman Worldwide and Hill & Knowlton. For several years, he also served as the Vice President of Government Affairs for the Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) in Atlanta, GA. Austin is currently the President of Cooper Strategic Affairs, LLC, which provides government relations and communications counsel to government and non-government organizations in Washington, DC.

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