A brick removed from a divisive wall

There was nothing heroic — or even extraordinary — a week ago today when two Lumberton police officers, a white and an American Indian, feverishly fought but failed to save the life of a black man who had been shot, doing so to the extent that one became physically ill under a broiling sun and near triple-digit temperatures.

That is what cops do routinely, and the only reason we know about it is that the actions of Officers Joe Butler IV and Anthony Maynor caught the attention of an onlooker, a black man who felt moved to write a note to the officers commending them for their actions.

That man, Michael Robinson, told a reporter for The Robesonian that Butler “didn’t see (the victim) as a black man. He just saw him as a person and wanted to save his life.”

Butler and Maynor’s efforts to save a life were not captured by a cellphone, so they could not be carved into granite through the Internet. But we have seen plenty of video of law enforcement officers in recent months, and too often what is depicted is disturbing, actions that directly led to the death of a black man — and that seem indefensible.

The 24-7 news cycle promises to keep these incidents fresh in people’s minds and, as we have seen, they have fueled more violence, with police officers being the target, including eight who have been assassinated during the last two weeks.

But often facts are blurred by round-the-clock news and cellphone videos.

Our guess is that most of today’s readers will be surprised to learn that violent deaths in this country have been on the decline for 20 years. About 8,000 people were murdered by a gun in this country during 2014, too many for sure, but 12,000 fewer than in 1995.

Are you surprised to learn that more police officers were killed during Ronald Reagan’s eight years in the White House than during the first seven and a half years of Barack Obama’s presidency?

Because the information is not found easily by a Google search, what we don’t know is whether or not blacks, particularly young males, are being targeted by police now more frequently than in the past. Our guess is that is not the case because this nation’s history of treating blacks is shameful, and everything points to progress on that front.

There are, for example, more blacks in uniform, more in robes, more in political office, and even one in the Oval Office, and that continues to bend the arch of justice slowly, but in a favorable direction.

In Robeson County, we have dodged these bullets. We know that can change in a second, but in a violent county, deadly encounters between lawmen and suspected criminals of all colors have been rare. Perhaps that is because our law enforcement agencies reflect this county’s unique demographics.

Still, our local cops are wise to keep their heads down.

What is needed is more of what was occurred last week.

Two city police officers, a white and an Indian, tried desperately to save the life of a mortally injured black man, doing so instinctively, unencumbered by thoughts that don’t matter. And a black man not only saw what they did, it moved him sufficiently that he expressed his gratitude.

Those are the kinds of engagements that are needed to continue the brick by brick dis-assembly of the wall that separates this nation’s police officers and young black men.

We are pleased that it happened here.

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