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Can I see them as I see my own children?

Trayvon? Ahmaud? Emmett?

Can I see them as fellow fathers, just like me?

Medgar? Terence? Rayshard?

As a white father, can I see George Floyd as a brother or son?

As a white father, can I see Breonna Taylor as a sister or daughter?

Father's Day has never been about grills or cordless drills or whatever fool's gold American capitalism tries to sell me.

It is about the heart — the way the birth of our children ballooned and expanded our heart from a three-chambered organ to this fathomless, endless torch of love.

This makes Father's Day as urgent as ever.

White fathers in Hamilton County: can we love their children in the same way we love our own?

Can we muster the imagination and courage to see beyond our own skin?

These protests? They're cause and effect. Racism coming home to roost. We are reaping what we've sown.

For generations, unspeakable violence has come from this fact: white fathers have failed to see Black sons and daughters as equal to their own.

If a cry to defund the police is confusing, then instead, hear it as a cry to re-fund communities.

Instead of eradicating crime, defunding the police is a cry to eradicate injustice.

Take a long view. When has the American police force been on the side of African Americans?

Not in the 18th and 19th centuries, as white lawmen and slave catchers upheld human bondage. Harriet Tubman? She wanted to defund the police, too.

Not in the 20th century, with its lynching, legalized segregation, fire hoses. With its War on Drugs and for-profit prisons.

The historic story of the white badge in America has pitted it against freedom movements of all kinds, especially Black freedom.

Do not talk of good and bad apples, a poor analogy that equates violence against Black Americans with a soured Granny Smith.

Of course, there are heroic individual officers, white, Black, brown. I know many. (On my list, most are Black and joined the force to transform it.)

This is about the collective story of the badge behind them.

This is why Father's Day matters so much.

The white father can pass down racism.

Or he can interrupt it.

(Sometimes, without knowing, we do both.)

White fathers, let us declare racism as a public health issue in Hamilton County, just as other counties have done.

Let's divest from our comfort. Let's have difficult conversations and ask difficult questions of ourselves:

How much power am I willing to give up in the name of equity?

What are the racial stories I've been taught? And taught my children?

What can I do to fight the sins of racism?

In 1967, Dr. King warned America about its military budget.

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death," he said.

The same warning applies to Chattanooga.

If we are overfunding a militarized police force then we are underfunding programs of transformation and spiritual depth.

"During the 2020 fiscal year, the city approved 44% of its budget, or $120 million, to go to public safety, including $73 million going to city police. From the total police funding, $669,597, or less than 1%, went to the Family Justice Center," Wyatt Massey reported last week.

Last week, City Hall responded: a new Office of Community Resilience.

In all the nights of protests, has anyone once called for such an office?

"Hell no," said organizer Marie Mott.

This is the danger of white liberalism: it gives, but only what it wants you to have. The county government? You know where you stand: right behind the Confederate monument guarding the courthouse.

City Hall, portraying itself as progressive, becomes the near enemy of the movement, creating an office that is lame-duck (the election is nine months away) and a tone-deaf answer to the demands in the streets.

"We've had doors closed, calls go unanswered, and been disrespected to our faces," said Cameron "C-Grimey" Williams at Monday's protest.

When was the last time wealthy Chattanooga said that?

When has wealthy Chattanooga ever had to march night after night for political change? Or a Business Improvement District?

"With no Black businesses," Mott said.

White fathers, I've seen these protests.

They're packed with young white men and women.

Our daughters. Our sons.

What are they telling us?

Do we have the heart to listen?

***

Recently, the Grind Smart Foundation announced three college scholarships for local graduating seniors. The essay contest is based around three prompts dealing with inspiration, leadership and change.

Grind Smart — a nonprofit organization that helps to create "equitable access to resources for disadvantaged youth — is run by the city's public safety coordinator Troy Rogers and Olivet Baptist's Chris Sands. The deadline is July 1. For more info, email grindsmartfoundation@gmail.com.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

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David Cook
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