I have sat through endless hours of TV coverage, learning the names and stories of the dead. The 49 victims at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando
. Alton Sterling i
n Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Philando Castile
in Minnesota. Five officers of the law in Dallas
: Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens.
I am not gay. I am not black. And I am not in law enforcement. I am American. And each one of those deaths was sad and outrageous and shocking to me. We are all in this together. We must do better as a country. We must do better as a society. We must do better as individuals. Doing anything less is not an option.
All these deaths appear to share one thing in common. Hatred. Bigotry. That conscious or subconscious suspicion that comes from perceiving others as different from us. Gay lives matter. Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter. I refuse to accept or believe that I have to choose one above the other. I refuse to believe we need to take sides.
Labels don't matter to the parent that has to bury a child. Color doesn't matter to spouses who became widows or children who became orphans in an instant. What matters is that they will never be whole again. They will never again hug -- or listen to the voice of -- the person they loved. Every holiday will be marred by the void left; now someone is missing. These senseless deaths are a personal tragedy to those who knew and loved the victims.
But they are even more than that. They are also a national tragedy.
We are at a crossroads as a nation. We have allowed ourselves to become polarized. We have fallen prey to the politics of division. We proudly declare ourselves independent of political correctness and think that means letting our most negative feelings roam free.
Civility and common courtesy is viewed by some as a sign of weakness. Some Americans feel under attack and in turn, go on the attack. We often only listen to, watch, and read opinions we agree with and discount different opinions as propaganda. Too often, we surround ourselves only by people who look like us and think like us and act like us.
Folks, thoughts and prayers will only take us so far. We must do more. This month of tragic bloodshed and violence should serve as a wake-up call for Americans. Let's each look deep into ourselves and recognize our faults. Have we been part of the problem? Have we been mere spectators? Can we be part of the solution?
In moments like these, leaders often call for "national dialogue." Here's a thought: Let's start with individual dialogue. Let's talk to each other. Let's listen to each other. Let's respect each others' differences and diversity.
I live in Miami, an urban city where people of different colors, nationalities and creeds coexist. It isn't always easy.
Work takes me all over the country. I get to meet all types of people. I often find myself explaining the immigrant experience -- leaving your home country, learning a new language and customs, being adopted by America and loving it as your own.
I have spent countless hours listening to African-American friends talk about what it was like to grow up black and often poor in America. Every single black friend I know has given or received "the talk" on how to act -- and how not to act -- if stopped by police. Every single one. Some of my black friends are famous, rich and powerful. Some are average Joes and Janes. Regardless of who they are, they have had "the talk" with their kids.
I never did. Nobody in my family ever did. None of my classmates ever did. I grew up assuming that all police officers are decent, good people, risking their lives to protect me. I never, ever feared that a simple traffic violation would end up in more than a citation. The black experience is different.
The truth is, the vast majority of cops are out there to do good. But racism, racial profiling and abuse still exist in our country. It is not a figment of black imagination. We cannot be blind to it. And we cannot pretend it started just recently, with the advent of readily accessible video phones.
I have also had many conversations with first responders -- men and women who put their lives at risk daily, so that the rest of us may be safer. Most people in law enforcement sign onto the job because they want to improve their community. They want to make it a safer place for their children and other people's children.
Let us never forget the thousands and thousands of police officers who've died or are wounded in the line of duty. We owe it to those who've made the ultimate sacrifice to recognize that though there are exceptions, police forces are predominantly made up of good people with a vocation to serve and protect.
Let's also talk a little about "the blame game." No, conservative leaders who condemn homosexuality are not to blame for the death of 49 people at Pulse. A hate-filled, radicalized, bigoted madman is.
No, Donald Trump and his divisive rhetoric is not to blame for the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. A few police officers are. No, President Obama is not to blame for the hunting of Dallas police, which led to the death of five of them. A deranged man full of hatred and misguided vengeance is.
But words do matter. The character of our leaders matter. As we head to the polls this November, we will be electing our local, state and national representatives. I for one, am going to vote for those that lead us forward, not backwards. I am going to vote for those who help us find the best in ourselves, not the worst in others.
I am going to vote for those that advocate unity and optimism, not stoke division and fear. There is a lot that each of us can do to heal the racial divide and our national wounds. Our individual actions, our words, our attitude, and our vote ---it can all make a difference.