We must start having the same conversation

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Julius Cavira, guest columnist

“Have we, individually and collectively as a nation, become so immune to the frequency of violence in our neighborhoods and cities that we no longer pay any heed?” asked guest columnist Colleen Tobiason (“Where is the outrage over killings?”, Jul 20). The answer has undoubtedly always been — yes.

Growing up in the 1980s, a hanging pair of shoes on a telephone wire was a sign of the death of a local kid, whether gang related or not. There have been neighborhoods around the corner from where I lived where strung up pairs of shoes were the norm. Fast-forward to today’s regular reports of deaths. Sadly, it has not surprised me that shootings happen around the country on a consistent basis.

“Our best estimate is that about a thousand times a year, a police officer somewhere in the United States shoots and kills somebody and so far this year we’re right on track for that number,” explained criminologist Phil Stinson recently on National Public Radio. It might seem there are more people getting shot and killed by police, but as Joseph Shapiro reports, that may just be because we’re paying more attention. And then there’s the problem of the media who are out for ratings and intrigue.

I salute our uniformed brothers and sisters of arms who strive to uphold peace, but don’t think for a second that chaos, mistakes and corruption do not exist in those worlds. When I was in the U.S. Army, in deployment or stateside, there were people who were in it for a paycheck and people who went in for a cause — as well as a number whose motivations fell in a vast chasm of gray areas.

Solving this problem will take exposure, community involvement and empathy, not apathy or cynical rhetoric and accusations. Don’t think we don’t need law enforcement — we do. They are the living embodiment of a symbol for peace; if we lose that we have failed as a country.

Part of the problem is that we are so divided, and not only on social media. A 2013 study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 75 percent of white people surveyed had entirely white friend groups — they were not talking to people of color at all! When you see poll numbers about the vast space between where people of color feel about policing and various issues of equality and where white people stand on those issues, it can be explained in part by the fact that we’re not having the same conversations.

I try not to think of the body count whenever I hear unfortunate news (think 9/11) — it is all morbid. Instead, I ask if I can be a solution or another problem. I remember John F. Kennedy’s words, and I ask myself the question: “What can you do?”

• After earning his bachelor’s degree, Julius Cavira volunteered with AmeriCorps, YMCA, Camphill Communities and finally enlisted in the U.S. Army (active duty) where he was deployed to Iraq twice, from 2004-05 and 2007-08. He was honorably discharged in 2009 and lives with his wife in Cedar Rapids.

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