EDITORIAL: By Chuck Gibson, Founder, Publisher, Editor & Journalist, Loveland Beacon online news site – “Shining a Light for Loveland & Communities”

IN MY OPINION: By Chuck Gibson 

LOVELAND, OH (June 2020) – It was the summer of 1967 in Detroit, Michigan, it was hot and racial unrest stirred in the city streets.

Chuck Gibson, Founder, Editor, Publisher, Journalist, Loveland Beacon (FILE)

I was a 10 year-old white boy living in the suburbs of Detroit. Bloomfield Hills was not too different than the Loveland, Ohio community where I live today. The community was made up of mostly middle-class white-collar with a mix of blue-collar auto industry families and some upper middle-class auto industry and bank executives. (Lee Iacocca made his home there, so did Detroit Tiger outfielder and MLB Hall of Famer Al Kaline and a local and network TV Sports Anchor) I was playing Little League Baseball, swimming at our community pool, and bowling in a Saturday morning kids bowling league with my three best friends.

The four of us, Ron, John, Jeff and I came up one short of the five needed for a team in the league. Another boy our age was assigned to round out our team. Bobby Banks. I’ll never forget him. We were all good bowlers, but Bobby Banks was the best of us. 

We didn’t know him before he was on our team. He wasn’t from our neighborhood. He was from across the main boulevard and lived in Pontiac, Michigan, not Bloomfield Hills. You know, like the other side of the tracks. Not only that, but Bobby was black – a fact that completely escaped our attention as 10 year old boys on a bowling team destined for first place honors with Bobby on the team. That all changed in a hurry.

The first time I knew of trouble that summer was one evening when my dad arrived home from work, hurriedly changed his clothes, went out the door got into the car of a neighbor and was handed a rifle. I was scared. I’d never seen my dad with a gun of any kind, and could not understand why he went out the door without sitting down to family dinner. Mom looked scared too. She tried to calm us by telling us the men were just going to keep watch at our neighborhood entrance. There were rumors about a group of black men gathering there with plans to make trouble. Rumors. Nothing happened. Dad came home safely that night. No bricks or bottles were thrown; no gunfire and no homes were fire-bombed.

Fire-bombed buildings, bricks and bottles flying was what we saw on the six-o-clock news on television. The city of Detroit was on fire. We saw smoke and fire, burning buildings, cars burning in the street, Police in “riot gear” facing off against the “rioters” who were mostly black men and women. That’s what the news showed us.  Police carried shields, fired rubber bullets from their weapons, and threw tear-gas into the crowds. The protesters/rioters returned fire with bricks and bottles. Bricks and bottles is what I remember. Maybe both sides used guns with real bullets too, but I remember rubber bullets, tear-gas, bricks and bottles. I was scared. The City of Detroit was burning and I had no idea why. I did not understand why Bobby Banks’ dad showed up at the bowling alley one Saturday morning and pulled Bobby off our team. To this day, I have never seen Bobby Banks again. To us, he was not a black kid, he was a kid who was a great bowler and made our team better. It was probably not the first time I experienced racism, but those events are my first real memories of racism. Racism is a horrible thing to experience from any side – especially in the eyes of a child.

Fast forward just one year to April 1968. A man name Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. This oblivious kid from Detroit, Michigan had no idea who the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was then. Sadly, all I knew was his assassination caused Tiger Baseball Opening Day, and the celebration that goes with it, to be postponed. Today, over 50 years later, it’s the reason I remember, and came to understand, exactly who Martin Luther King is in the history of our nation. His “I Have A Dream” speech was already an inspiration, not just for Black people in America, but for all people of America (maybe even the world) to aspire to and strive for equality for all races. His speech, his memory was the impetus for a powerful movement toward racial equality and peace among us – all of us. No, I did not believe racism ended. No, I did not believe racial equality had become a practiced reality. Yes, I believed great progress had been made toward achieving the dream of living in a nation where “all men are created equal” can sit at the same table together, play together, work together, and in the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from his speech: “. . . that day when all of Gods’ children , black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual ‘Free at Last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, we are Free at last.”

But, in May 2020, George Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer while three other fellow police officers looked on as nothing less than accomplices to the atrocity we now recognize as the killing of George Floyd. It is 2020, not 1963, 1967, or even 1968. What has changed? Not much.

Television News (Not to mention social media) is showing us images of marches in the city streets all across America once again erupting into acts of violence with burning buildings, looting, rocks, bricks and bottles flying, police with shields and weapons in confrontations with groups of citizens trying to be heard. To be fair and honest, some of those groups of citizens are indeed exercising their right to assemble and demonstrate peacefully. Sadly, others have turned into angry mobs protesting violently, causing destruction of property, raising fear, inducing panic, and harming other people. City leaders have imposed curfews in an effort to calm the chaos. Arrests have been made. Hatred is ugly! Fear is ugly! Racism is ugly! Excessive force/ police misconduct is ugly! People have been hurt. People have died. People. That is the point. These are people – too many to name, and far too many to go unnamed: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery . . .

People, we have been here before, maybe we never left. I thought we did. I have talked with others who thought we did. Some still think we left those darkest of days in a world of racial prejudice behind us. Some truly believe we have moved forward. I truly believe great progress was made toward equality in our nation, equality for all people, not just blacks. I believed people of these United States heard the words, and believed in the “Dream” Martin Luther King spoke in his famous speech. Forget it. Any progress made has been slower than I ever imagined. Every step this nation has taken forward in the walk to unity and equality is erased and pushed back two steps with every act of racial prejudice or discrimination.

There have been far too many incidents in the last 50-plus years where racism and discrimination of all kinds stirred people to action, but the result has not been real change. Here we are again. Divided, maybe more divided than ever. This is not new. In fact, this is very old. Something new has to be done to make this world we live in a world without racial prejudice and discrimination leading to acts of violence. When people all across our nation responded to the killing of George Floyd with demonstrations and protests, the narrative instantly became racism. I said then, the true issue is police brutality, excessive force used by bad cops.

It is not a popular stance to take, but the fact is bad cops have killed people of all races, not just black people. I’m not wrong, but I’m not right either. Both racism and bad cops exist in America. Protesters have taken up the issue of bad police. Let me be clear here, I believe the largest percentage of police officers by far do serve and protect all people and deserve our respect and admiration for their public service. Sadly, bad cops, who misuse their authority as power over people, place a dark cloud over the good done by the vast majority of police officers. Far too often, the outcome is fatal. No person of any color or ethnicity should die at the hands of a police officer – period. No police officer should ever have to take the life of any human being! All that said, I realize the narrative of racism is real and true. From the most obscure act of racial prejudice, to the most heinous act of racial violence, racism is real and must be addressed. Law enforcement in America must address the issue of excessive force and police misconduct. 

Not since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 has this nation, maybe even this world known a leader with the vision to guide us toward true equality and bring us together in unity. People talk about diversity. I say diversity is the wrong message. Division starts with the same three letters (D I V). I say let’s start the conversation about how we are all alike, not about what makes us different. Sure, I agree there is a place for diversity bringing more people of different cultures together to learn how we are alike. But diversity in community cannot be legislated. People have to come together naturally, comfortably, and without fear within a community, workplace, school, or any gathering place you can think of. Loveland is not necessarily the picture of diversity, but it is a community that came together, prayed and walked together in the days after the killing of George Floyd. It was one man, one black man, who led hundreds in prayer and peaceful walks through the community for unity. I walked with him. I listened to him. Many others did too. His message came from his heart and from his faith in God. He turned to God seeking non-violent answers to a violent act. His message was one of unity and equality for all without fear and with love for one another. His was a most powerful message. We all need to receive that message and share that message – maybe we can all once again share the Dream of which Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke.  

Black lives do matter. All lives matter. Until we see a human race in every face, not the color of a person’s skin, we will be divided.  Until we see what makes us the same, we will be divided. Until we stop seeing what makes us different, we will be divided. Until we stop judging with prejudice those things which make us uniquely individual, we will be divided. The lesson is simple, we’ve all heard it. Do not judge a book by its cover. It is the story inside the pages which reveals the whole story. Every human being has a story to tell. We cannot judge them by their cover, the color of their skin, the shape of their body, how they walk, or how they talk. We cannot know their story until we know them. We cannot know their story until we turn the page and look beyond the cover. It is time to look beyond the surface of all our fellow humans to see beyond the cover of skin color. Racism will not stop until we turn the page. It is time to turn the page. 

Editor’s note: Loveland Beacon welcomes your opinion. Please feel free to submit your thoughts on this, or any other topic, according to the submission guidelines published in this “People’s Voice” section of Loveland Beacon. Thank you for reading.