The sniper attack that killed five police officers and injured seven in Dallas may be the spark that finally shocks us into understanding just how toxic our nation has become, how dangerous for all of us, no matter what our race. Surely, we must see now how deeply we have failed one another and that our willful ignorance, thirst for vengeance and reluctance to even acknowledge our hatred and injustice will rip our nation apart.
A sniper suspect, who later was killed in a standoff when police detonated a bomb near him, said he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers and that he was upset about the "recent police shootings," according to Dallas police Chief David Brown.
We cannot pretend to be shocked by this. Not if we have bothered to listen to the any on the long list of grieving black voices, such as that of Valerie Castile, mother of Philando Castile, 32, after her son was shot and killed by police after being pulled over for a broken taillight earlier this week.
"He was no thug," Valerie Castile felt compelled to tell us, acknowledging the status quo assumptions about every black man, woman or child gunned down by police.
She begged America to feel her pain. She pleaded with us to see the humanity in her beloved son, who was described by all as a gentle man and a role model at the school where he worked as a cafeteria nutrition specialist. His mother wanted us to understand that her son didn't deserve his horrendous death.
That death might have gone unnoticed by the world, had not his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, live-streamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting as the life drained from Castile's slumped, bullet-riddled body. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said after the
killing that police wouldn't have shot and killed Philando Castile if he'd been white, and he called for justice "with the greatest sense of time urgency."
Only a day earlier, another black mother spoke to us, imploring us to help her family find justice after two white officers shot and killed Alton B. Sterling, 37, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, while responding to a call, reportedly made by a homeless man about an armed man. Bystanders made videos and they showed Sterling pinned down on the ground by multiple officers when he was shot and killed. The Justice Department is investigating this police shooting.
How many have even questioned why a mother, once again, has to beg America to see the humanity in her own child? Why is it necessary in 2016, for us to plead with America to see our blackness as more than a threat, more than a menace? And to understand that our black lives must matter if this nation is ever to be as great as much of white America believes it is.
This is not a black problem, this is an American crisis. Listen to our rage. It lives everywhere: in our music, in our books, in our speeches and across twitter hashtags. From the famous -- like Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar -- to the #BlackLivesMatter protestors of every race, the word has gone out that the gross injustice must end, that Black America feels under siege. And those are only the voices of this generation who've been trying afresh to get us to pay attention.
President Obama, while calling the Dallas police shootings a "vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement," has also said
"What's clear is that these fatal shootings are not isolated incidents ... There is a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same. And that hurts."
Tamir Rice, Freddie Grey, Sandra Bland, Tanisha Anderson, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Freddie Amadou Diallo, back in 1999 -- all names I wish I didn't know. All stories that have haunted me over the years. My fears send me to bed every night and wake me up in the mornings with prayers for protection for my son -- for all our sons and daughters.
Police killed at least 136 black people in 2016
, according to a project by the Guardian that tracks police killings in America. And exactly zero police have been convicted and gone to jail for killing a civilian in the line of duty, zero.
Last night, five police officers were killed by civilians, according to what we know now. And according to the Officer Down Memorial Page,
prior to the Dallas sniper attack, 21 police officers had been killed by gunfire in the line of duty this year.
"All I know is that this must stop -- this divisiveness between our police and our citizens," Dallas police Chief David Brown said. "We don't feel much support most days."
So here we are at a crossroads. I am black and I believe that you do not trust me. And, I believe that I cannot afford to trust you without putting my life and my children's life in danger.
How does this nightmare end? I have no idea. But we start by waking up. Paying attention. Listening to one another. I do know we cannot fix this problem by going tit-for-tat on murder stats: cop versus civilian killings.
Where we go from here is up to us. Until then, the body count will keep climbing. And all of us will continue to live in terror.