Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Place Where You Live: What happened on West Garfield Avenue is a societal problem

I am an African-American male with a great career, and had I been there in my civilian clothes I can’t be 100 percent sure that I would have helped — not because I wouldn’t have wanted to, but out of fear.

Posted on July 14, 2014 at 4:33 p.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Place Where You Live is a column from a variety of writers in Elkhart County. As the column's name suggests, they'll write about issues affecting their neighbors and communities.

I have seen a lot of posts and comments on Facebook concerning the police officer being attacked on West Garfield Avenue in Elkhart. As usual, most of the comments on the posts are divided along racial lines, with most white people feeling sorry for the officer and most blacks having sympathy for the attacker.

The anger and stories clearly aren’t related to the what happened as much as they are personal negative feelings about the opposite race.

Cpl. Dustin Young seems to be a nice person. We have spoken on several occasions, mostly on a professional level, as I am a firefighter. I have never been on the receiving end of any of his police work, but regardless, this was not a racial issue. When the officer told Reese Haithcox to get out of the street, he should have done just that. If in any way Haithcox felt that he had been disrespected or addressed improperly, he should have followed the proper channels to file a complaint.

But we absolutely cannot condone attacking officers of the law.

I have many relatives and several children that I mentor on the south side of Elkhart, and I can tell you from personal experience that people standing in the street blocking traffic is absolutely a problem on Garfield Avenue. That being said, I don’t think it’s fair to blame the onlookers for not jumping into the altercation to help, which would have been the right thing but not the safe thing, and I have several reasons for that opinion.

First of all, you have a guy who is bold enough to attack a police officer, so who knows what type of weapon he had and might have used if someone had gotten in his way.

Secondly, hundreds of people didn’t witness the altercation — that’s how many gathered around afterwards. We have no idea of the physical capabilities of those who actually saw the fight taking place.

My final reason is the most controversial.

In African-American neighborhoods all across the country, right, wrong or indifferent, cops are viewed like the bogeyman. At the same time, there is a popular assertion that black males are criminals.

I am an African-American male with a great career, and had I been there in my civilian clothes I can’t be 100 percent sure that I would have helped — not because I wouldn’t have wanted to, but out of fear.

The officer’s backup is coming in quick, and police have split-second decisions to make. If they had seen several African-American males around a police officer during a fight, regardless of the officer’s race, how many of those police would have assumed the African-Americans were helping the officer?

I am black, and if I were a cop — knowing what I know about the feelings about police in that neighborhood — I definitely wouldn’t have thought the African-Americans were trying to help the officer. And that, in turn, could have led to more confusion and several people being mistakenly shot and possibly killed.

As a society, we all have to take personal responsibility for indirectly contributing to these circumstances with our behavior and beliefs. African-Americans have to accept that all police officers aren’t crooked or dirty, and when you are misbehaving, they have a job to do.

Whites have to accept that all African-American males are not criminals and we don’t always have to be approached or talked to in a negative manner.

This isn’t a police or attacker issue; this is a societal problem, plain and simple.

Take a look in the mirror, people. Let’s ask ourselves how our daily actions contribute to instances like this and start making some changes!

Rodney Dale is an Elkhart Fire Department division chief. He lives in Bristol.

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