On Saturday May 9, Mississippians were shocked to learn that two Hattiesburg police officers, Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate — one white, one black — were senselessly gunned down after making what appears to have been a routine traffic stop. To date, law enforcement on the local, state and federal levels have arrested seven individuals for the crime.
In the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, what we witnessed was nothing short of remarkable, as the entire community of Hattiesburg, the greater Pine Belt, and all of Mississippi came together to mourn their tragic deaths and to honor their memories.
We proudly watched as thousands of Mississippians of every race, as well as the young and the elderly, stood along the roadsides to pay their final respects as the funeral procession passed by. For Liquori Tate, who was buried in Starkville, his procession stretched for miles as it traveled on the interstate headed northward as thousands more stood on overpasses to honor him.
This is but one recent example of our people at their very best. The people of Mississippi are still as kind and generous as they come, leading the nation in charitable giving, compassion, generosity and church membership.
The problem is not with us, the good and decent people inhabiting our great state and nation, but with the racial demagogues who preach the destructive divisiveness of racial politics, engaging in race-baiting and despicable appeals to primitive instincts for personal gain and political expediency.
Although the demagogues occupy both sides of the political aisle, they seem more pervasive on the Left. For example, Al Sharpton and his National Action Network, with its ever present slogan “No Justice, No Peace,” seem to ignore the real plight of black Americans, or he and his colleagues would aggressively tackle the growing epidemic of black-on-black crime, which is soaring in cities across the country, or the increasing assaults on police officers. Liquori Tate’s uncle, Pastor Dennis Johnson, said it best at the funeral: “We have lost two good men, and nobody has marched, nobody has . . . Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, where are you?”
Pastor Johnson has asked the right question; but such issues, as concerning as they are, do not fit the Sharpton/Jackson “racist” narrative nor put more money in their already deep pockets.
Despite the demagoguery, much of the nation, especially Mississippi, has made great strides in race relations in recent decades, and we should be proud of our progress.
But there is still work to be done.
As the nation’s first black President, Barack Obama had a golden opportunity to help us move past racial politics for good and much of the nation seemed poised to follow his lead. So it was unfortunate to see First Lady Michelle Obama chose the Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington, to give a racially charged commencement address last week in which she regaled graduates with a tale that seemed to revert America back to the 1960s rather than acknowledge the progress we have made. According to the First Lady, the nation’s African Americans are still subject to oppression across the country and should lay the blame at the feet of others.
And yet Booker T. Washington himself did not counsel his fellow blacks to cast blame but to work hard and find success. “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work,” he said. “No greater injury can be done to any youth than to let him feel that because he belongs to this or that race he will be advanced in life regardless of his own merits or efforts.”
It is this message that Mrs. Obama should have shared with the young graduates and not one centered on blaming society.
Thankfully, Americans in city after city across the country are beginning to reject those who seek paychecks and political gain for themselves, not healing for their communities. Mississippians of all races denounced the killing of both officers and showed their support. And our tears were neither black nor white.
Officer Liquori Tate was an upstanding young man who wanted to join the police force to help foster change in the black community in Hattiesburg and to show young blacks that they can be successful in life. It did not matter if he was black or white to us; he is a hero, along with his partner Benjamin Deen. Indeed, both were the embodiment of Dr. King’s vision for America, a color blind society based on the content of one’s character rather than the color of one’s skin.
Both should be celebrated in communities across the country.
And this should be the path we all take, as we move forward together.