Race relations are back on America’s front burner, thanks in large part to the widespread use of smartphones that are relaying images of black men being shot down by police officers across the country. For decades, the black community has sought the country’s support in the face of institutionalized racism in police forces. By and large, America has looked the other way.

When the issue has been discussed, conservatives have routinely accused African-Americans of exaggeration and grandstanding. In virtually every instance, they have accepted the officer’s version at face value, long before any investigations were done, and nodded in agreement when internal “reviews” confirmed their beliefs and cleared officers of any charges.

Some continue to do that today, even in the face of overwhelming video evidence. As exhibit A, I refer you to a column on Friday by M.D. Harmon, who asserted that the conflicts between police and black communities are really little more than a myth created by interest groups and liberals.

Harmon did a good job representing the conservative ideologue’s response to race problems in America, which seems to mirror its response to climate change and income inequality. Dig a small hole. Put your head into the hole and bury your eyes and ears. There, in the silence, racism will not exist. Climate change will be a myth. Income equally will not matter.

Ignoring problems is one way to perpetuate them. The problem for racism deniers is that America is no longer simply weighing the claims of black people and police officers. They’re seeing the videos on their television screens and computers every week. At some moment in time, the sheer preponderance of video evidence is enough to persuade most reasonable people that something must be done.

Pictures and videos may be an imperfect form of evidence, and they all have to be carefully dissected, but they’re a heck of a lot better than “he said-he said” debates between people in uniform and bleeding or dead black people.

We’re at another turning point in America’s long and slow evolution on race. It is reminiscent of another time in which technology awakened America to a problem it hadn’t yet seen and wasn’t inclined to believe. In the 1960s, thanks to the rapid introduction of televisions into America’s living rooms, the country became a witness to heart-breaking images of peaceful black demonstrators, preachers and professors being attacked with dogs and fire hoses.

Then, as now, the visual evidence simply overwhelmed the denial and the bias of conservative commentators and southern politicians. Those images opened America’s eyes and awakened us to our moral obligation to treat others as we would have them treat us.

Out of that awakening came a wide array of civil rights protections, a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and the nation’s first black president. Since then, black Americans have seen incomes and education slowly rise, fueled by both hard work by individuals and collective action to overcome barriers. That’s been possible, at least in part, because other Americans refused to look the other way.

Now we are called to work together again to ensure that no part of law enforcement can be a safe harbor for bias and hatred. That police forces work with their communities rather than against them. That officers are paid enough to attract and keep the best talent. And that training in non-violent conflict resolution is as important as shooting practice.

Harmon said, in his column, that those who criticize the police are motivated by a desire to “smear all officers and put them all in danger.” That statement is not only wrong, it is offensive. And it’s an echo of accusations made in the sixties against those who opposed segregation, the Vietnam war or the pollution of our land and water. Those people were regularly accused of hating their country because they dared to say it wasn’t perfect.

Harmon, as a conservative crusader against the parts of government where nobody wears a gun on their hip, knows that it is both the right and, at times, the duty of Americans to criticize their government and to improve upon it where they can.

We can love our country and criticize it at the same time. We can support and appreciate our police forces even while criticizing bad apples that must be weeded out and institutionalized bias that must be eradicated.

Blind defenses of all police officers, and a refusal to see what is plainly obvious to most Americans today, does no service to either the police or the country. It only delays the work that must be done.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, owns Caron Communications and is the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at: [email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.