Saturday, July 9, 2016


They are going to bury my cousin today. Leo Drolshagen was 86. He died a few days ago peacefully, during his afternoon nap.

Leo Drolshagen’s life mattered. It mattered a lot to the five people who matured in the garden of his protection, his discipline and his love. It mattered to the fourteen grandchildren who inherited his charm, his smile and his faith.

Leo’s life mattered to a lot of other people, too. Folks who worked for him and folks he helped at the Savings and Loan. Clients, especially the young ones he was appointed to represent by the Probate Court.

And it mattered to other people, too. To a community he loved and served. They will all be here at the church to celebrate a life well lived, a life that mattered.

Lives matter. All lives. Philando Castle’s life mattered. He was the 32 year old school employee killed by police bullets after his car was stopped for a broken tail light near Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Just hours before, Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  A video taken by a by stander showed Sterling pinned down when he was shot. Alton Sterling’s life mattered, too.

Castle and Sterling were black men. The five police officers murdered in the Dallas massacre were white. Their lives mattered, too.

Brent Thompson was newly married, Patrick Zamarripa was 32 and a father of two, as was Michael Smith 55, who was soon to retire from the Dallas Police Department. Michael Krol was 40, a transplant from Detroit and Lorne Ahrens, a senior officer, was survived by a wife and two children.

Lives mattered. All lives. Each of the seven men gunned down this week could have lived as long as Leo Drolshagen did. They could have died peacefully in their sleep. They could have been mourned by loving grandchildren and buried by a grateful community celebrating their lives and their contributions. Just like Leo.

In the weeks ahead the politicians and the talking heads on TV will analyze, philosophize, summarize and criticize. We will hear pleas for gun control, and racial tolerance. Fingers will be pointed, blame assessed and shame assigned.

I have two cents of my own to offer.

First, I agree with Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has  zero tolerance for public demonstrations calling for murderous revenge, whatever the name of the movement.  Free speech and peaceable assembly are sacred rights, but riots never solve anything. 

Mindless chants calling for killing cops are the stuff of hate groups that no reasonable American would associate with. No good can come of escalating conflict between black people and the police. Hostile confrontation is no substitute for the rule of law.

It seems pretty obvious to me that the root problem is that black communities are served by white policemen. But the fix isn’t easy.

In his 1986 seminal work, The Police and the Community,  Michigan State University Professor Louis A. Radelet spells out ten reasons why this is so:

1.    Failure to recruit black officers
2.    Black kids grow up ducking the police
3.    A black kid who wants to be a cop is seen as a traitor to his neighborhood
4.    Black officers are sometimes not fully accepted by police leadership.
5.    Black kids often do not meet police qualifications
6.    Blacks often think they are not wanted on the force
7.    Testing for many police jobs is culturally biased
8.    Many young blacks have some criminal record
9.    Camaraderie among the races takes time and effort
10.  Better qualified blacks are often able to find better paying jobs.

Professor  Radelet was writing 30 years ago. Due to his work and that of others like him, many attitudes have changed. My own experience at Cooley Law School satisfied me that there are a great many young black students who are qualified and interested in public service. Law enforcement is a career that matters.

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