Henderson: There’s No Salvation in a Grave-Digging Dynamic

Henderson: There’s No Salvation in a Grave-Digging Dynamic

The following commentary was written by Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson in the wake of targeting killings of police officers in Dallas:

WDET Joan Isabella

My heart’s breaking, again, this morning.

We wake, another day, to see violence defining the relationship between police and African Americans – this time, in the form of cowardly, dastardly shootings of Dallas officers during a Black Lives Matter protest.

Could there be anything more perverse? A rally to stop violence against black people, brought to a moral low by senseless indulgence of anger, and action encased in impure thoughts and motivation.

And for what? Revenge? There is no salvation in that grave-digging dynamic. There is no way forward to be found through back-biting betrayal.

What happened in Dallas last night mirrors the violence that black people are suffering, instead of challenging it. It accelerates the spiral downward, the debasing of our national culture and character. It sends us, further, into the moral abyss that has confounded this country since its beginning.

We spent a large part of yesterday’s show talking about the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. And that was right – the repeated incidents in which we are viewing recordings of police killing black men, women and children call us all to rapt attention, and I believe, to action.

But not this. Not ever. IT’s not okay. It’s not any form, in any way, of justice.

But also – let’s keep perspective on what we’re dealing with here.

What happened in Dallas was terrorism, plain and simple. Whoever the suspects were, whatever their purpose, their acts have the effect of hijacking a peaceful movement’s message and warping it to violent ends.

That’s terrible, but it’s not analogous to the greater context of the protest marches that have been taking place, or the incidents that have been inspiring them.

The unjustified killings of black men, women and children by police officers are a product of historical devaluation of black life. They fall along the same moral fault lines as the horrific lynchings that black people faced for decades in the American South. They hearken to the darkest eras of inequality in our past.

It’s the difference between individual actions, even those perpetrated with the most extreme bigotry at their roots, and systematic injustice, the kinds of things that have been baked into our culture and our system of government since the beginning.

That is what we are fighting here. That is what Black Lives Matter is challenging, properly, and what more and more people have begun to see, and acknowledge, with the prevalence of recorded police killings of African Americans.

The callout that those videos represent cannot be forgotten because of what happened in Dallas. In fact, the killing of these police officers should be inspiration for even more concentrated attention on the strained relationship between law enforcement and the African American community.

That’s difficult to see right now, because emotions are running high on all sides of the spectrum, and so many feel helpless.

But all of these events are a call to us, as Americans. They’re an alarm that we’ve tried to keep in the distance, but is now blaring in our ears, showing us with repeated urgency, what is broken in our society, and asking us to do something – anything – to reverse course.

What does that look like? I think we’re still feeling our way through that. And sadly, I believe we will have to do that while more tragedy unfolds around us.

Martin Luther King said the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice – but he also reminded us time and again that the arc is long, and the journey will be filled, at times, with horror and pain.

The key for us? To keep moving forward – altered by our grief.

Views expressed in Stephen Henderson’s commentary are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of WDET, its management or the station licensee, Wayne State University.


  • Stephen Henderson is host of Detroit Today and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. He is Executive Editor of BridgeDetroit and host of American Black Journal on Detroit Public Television.