“Nearly all men can stand adversity,” Abraham Lincoln said, “but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
That was a long time ago, of course, and Honest Abe might be excused for failing to anticipate the welcome emergence of women in positions of power in this country. One such woman, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, clearly met Lincoln’s test of character in the wake of an unspeakable community tragedy, the Oct. 12 death of Atatiana Jefferson under circumstances that would challenge the strength and resolve of any leader.
Price used the power of her office to stand and be counted, condemning the shooting of one of our citizens by one of our police officers. She apologized to the dead woman’s family on behalf of the city and unequivocally declared the killing inexcusable.
By rising to the occasion, by taking responsibility for this dark chapter in a proud city’s history, Price laid the groundwork for a healing process that is sure to be slow and difficult.
Price has instructed the city manager to convene an outside panel of experts to study the police department and its hiring and training practices. Such a review is sensible and necessary. Let’s hope it results in desperately needed changes.
But outsiders, no matter how qualified, cannot help Fort Worth resolve the longstanding issues of mistrust and resentment that exist in the way minority communities, particularly African-Americans, view not only the city’s police but the city’s entire power structure – a power structure that for too long has been mostly male and mostly white.
The perception of Fort Worth as a community plagued by tension among the races is no longer perception. It’s reality.
That can’t be fixed by any panel of experts and it can’t be fixed overnight. It will require dedication and hard work on the part of leaders in civic, educational and business life working with citizens who have been left out and left behind in a city that tends to obsess on the promise of the future while ignoring the failures of the past.
Maybe this moment enmeshed in sadness, shame and anger is an opportunity to finally come to grips with those failures.
Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org