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Black lives matter — blue lives matter — words matter

“I put a bullet in the back of the back of the head of the police (I love myself)”

– “i” by rapper Kendrick Lamar

“Pigs in blankets, fry ’em like bacon”

“What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!”

– Black Lives Matter protest chants

“The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe”

– Book by Heather MacDonald, released June 21

You can be part of the problem or part of the solution.

That’s what Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who is African-American, said after a dozen of his officers were gunned down during a Black Lives Matter protest by a man who wanted to kill as many white police officers as he could.

Five of those officers died.

Brown was extremely open after the shooting, saying “we’re all on edge. … My brain is fried. I’m running on fumes. … We’re asking cops to do too much in this country.”

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen, who is African-American, says “Black Lives Matter, as far as I am concerned, is a radical hate group. And for that purpose alone, I think the leadership of this country needs to look a little bit harder at that particular group. The consequences of what we saw in Dallas is due to their efforts.”

And former Santa Fe Police Chief Donald Grady II, who is African-American, told The Atlantic this month he was disappointed and heartbroken “anyone would decide that the way to resolve issues that we have between the public and the police, in particular minorities and the police, is through additional violence. … We’ve got civilians dying at the hands of the police and police dying at the hands of civilians. And rather than talk about things reasonably, logically, we have the police ratcheting up the rhetoric and we’ve got members of the community ratcheting up the rhetoric, and that doesn’t resolve any issues at all.”

All three know the challenges of being black in a blue uniform. And while Grady focused much of his extensive interview on the us-vs.-them mentality of police officers, Brown used a recent briefing to tell protesters who are unhappy with the police in their own cities to change who is “us” and who is “them.”

“Become a part of the solution. We’re hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in. And we’ll put you in your neighborhood, and we’ll help you resolve some of the problems you’re protesting about.

“All I know is that this must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens.”

For that to happen, egregious conduct by police officers has to be fully prosecuted rather than rubber-stamped as “justified.” And critics of police have to recognize their words are more than a First Amendment right – in a knee-jerk, social media world, they have the power to inflame and incite as much as inspire.

Look no further than Micah Johnson and his retaliatory violence against law enforcement fed by Black Lives Matter rhetoric – rhetoric that ignores the fact many men and women of color wear blue. And William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, who goes tit for tat fomenting fear of minorities by trumpeting “a war on cops” when 2015 was “one of the safest for police officers in recorded history,” according to The Washington Post.

When emotions can go from zero to 60 in a heartbeat and a hair-trigger temper can have an entirely literal meaning, each side needs to take a breath and realize words matter, too.

And we should expect and demand more from our president, who has shown a propensity to jump to conclusions in cases like Ferguson and can’t resist using any tragedy to try and make a political point to rally his base or advance his political agenda. He would do well to follow the example of Chief Brown.

In a world where terror strikes in Paris and Nice, New York and Orlando, words should help Americans’ core values bring them together, rather than encouraging differences to drive them apart.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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