Our View: Lowering tensions requires a conscious choice

Our View: Lowering tensions requires a conscious choice

(File photo)

Our country is at a precarious point. In recent weeks, we have seen black Americans killed by police, and police officers ambushed in the aftermath, all against the backdrop of political conventions and an extraordinarily nasty presidential campaign. Tensions are high and clashes frequent.

In times like these, to paraphrase Eldridge Cleaver, individuals can choose to either be part of the problem or part of the solution.

This adage was illustrated this week several times over in Alexandria. An example of being part of the problem took place Monday evening at Noodles & Company on Duke Street, when an Alexandria police officer was denied service by a line cook. The officer was reportedly upset by the incident.

Discrimination of any kind against any individual on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation — or occupation — is simply unacceptable in America, and in Alexandria.

We can’t go inside the mind of the Noodles employee to understand their rationale. But their action only poured fuel on what’s already a fire of racial tension and gun violence. Hateful expressions like this need to stop because they only make matters worse.

And yet many in our city are trying to heal wounds and diffuse tension. Just the day before the incident at Noodles, an ecumenical group of clergy held a prayer vigil at the scene of two recent city homicides. This gathering, an offshoot of the clergy council established earlier this year by Mayor Allison Silberberg, gathered in near 100-degree heat to pray for peace and unity.

Our city needs its faith community to play a leading role in healing, and this was a helpful and positive public gesture.

Additionally, another local restaurant, Atlantis in Bradlee Shopping Center, has a sign in its window offering free meals this week to first responders — police officers, fire fighters and emergency medical technicians. This gesture is symbolic of the long-standing good relationship between police and the public in Alexandria.

While not perfect, our police are generally responsive to city residents. They make an effort at being visible members of the community. Police Chief Earl Cook, who is set to retire this fall, has done a good job of interacting with the community and holding public meetings in neighborhoods affected by crime. The chief personally intervened after the Noodles incident involving one of his officers.

As Cook nears his retirement and our city searches for his replacement, it’s imperative that his shoes be filled by someone who shares his commitment to community engagement and responsiveness.

And it’s time for all of us — police, clergy, restaurant employees and regular residents alike — to make a conscious choice to be part of the solution. A polarizing incident happens in a second, but reconciliation requires long-term commitment and an open dialogue.