Despite progress, problems persist

“Refusing to acknowledge that this hateful behavior exists in this town is no better than actually committing it.” – Julio Ledesma.

It’s a sobering statement, made by someone who had no real reason to speak up about being the apparent target of racism in our community. Ledesma, a Rice University student from Los Angeles doing an internship here, will leave in a few weeks and likely never again have to face the man who pulled alongside him as he ran and hurled racial slurs from the craven safety of his pickup truck.

But Ledesma wanted Iron Mountain to be aware this type of individual and behavior stubbornly persists here.

So let’s acknowledge racism remains in the Upper Peninsula – that thing most hope has died. Yet still the stench lingers and the zombie keeps coming back.

It’s depressing that in the second decade of the 2000s, we continue to wrestle with some of the same racial problems that divided us a half-century ago. That some of the statements made about the race relations then, when segregation still was in place in some states, sound like they could apply today. America regularly seems caught in a “lather, rinse, repeat” cycle of anger, attempts to reconcile and then a new incident that sparks the outrage anew.

Ledesma’s account of what he experienced here came in before the events of last week, when black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and a St. Paul suburb were shot to death by police officers, actions caught on video that sparked protests in cities across the United States. That, in turn, inspired a black former Army reservist to turn sniper and target white police officers at a Dallas protest, killing five and wounding seven other people.

Answering violence with violence does not extinguish but inflames.

There’s no denying the video of police shootings in Minnesota, not so far away from the U.P., and Baton Rouge appear damning and deeply disturbing. The threats leveled at police, in turn, have been chilling, to the point where it is understandable why law enforcement departments in some cities like Dallas struggle to attract new officers.

In such an incendiary climate, it’s tough to see progress. But the growing dialog in some areas offers hope.

“We are not as divided as we seem,” President Barack Obama said at a memorial service for the slain officers Tuesday. “And I know that because I know America. I know how far we’ve come against impossible odds.”

The key to moving forward will be seeing the value, granting respect and rights, to all lives. Recognizing that individuals of all stripes and backgrounds will cross the line, do acts that must be condemned, but nothing will be accomplished if the worst elements in our society are allowed to define us all.

Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter. Acknowledging that does not diminish the efforts on behalf of those who have become targets. The slight of any should not be trivialized.

Even in Iron Mountain, seemingly far from the fray. We hope sharing Ledesma’s experience will make people think about the social climate here, that bullying and disrespect should have no place in how anyone is treated. That intolerance should not be tolerated.

So, as Ledesma states, no one else in the region will endure hatred, and can be judged as Martin Luther King said, not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”