Feel. Talk. Act

George H. Lambert Jr.

There’s no need to rehearse here the facts of what happened in North Charleston, S. C. on April 4, the latest fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man by a White police officer.  Not to mention another fatal shooting just a few days earlier in Tulsa County, Okla. According to authorities, a White deputy meant to use his stun gun but instead fired a fatal shot. These may stand as particularly blatant examples, but the real shame lies in how familiar these stories have become.

When I began this column last October, the idea was to address a different issue every month. One month I would celebrate an episode in Black history, and in another I would try to provide a personal view of a current event, be it affordable housing or domestic violence. As it happens, these last few months have been dominated by one story—with many heartbreaking variations. That confirms African Americans’ fears of walking down the street, or driving.

Like many of this newspaper’s readers, I have been pulled over by the police and experienced the intense unease that one wrong move could have disastrous consequences. I am intimately acquainted with the awkward routine of: Officer, I’m going to reach into my pocket now and pull out my wallet and Officer, should I open my glove compartment now or would you like to do it for me? Despite all the progress we’ve made, the fact that in 2015 I still have to have “the talk” with my teenage grandson is nothing short of depressing.

A recent news item put it starkly: American police killed more people in March 2015 than the entire UK police have killed since 1900. We can debate the reasons, but I feel strongly that intellectual arguments alone fall short of addressing the underlying reality.

Like many of you, I’m “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” to quote Fannie Lou Hamer’s 1964 speech.  At times like this I fall back on three simple ideas in the hopes of moving beyond this difficult moment in our history—feel, talk, and act.

Feel. Talk. Act. These three one-syllable words alone won’t stop the killing of the innocent and unarmed in our communities and streets, but perhaps they can provide a framework for moving forward. Together. 

George H. Lambert Jr. is the president and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League.