In Dallas, the sky falls on us once more


I don’t know why, but the Dallas police massacre makes me think of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of January 1986.

America’s altruistic, optimistic and scientific hopes broke up and caused a catastrophe just 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members. Innocence mauled by circumstance.

In the long run of history, these United States are about a minute into our experiment as a nation that espouses freedom and equality and all those other platitudes chiseled into our Declaration of Independence.

We ought to have known our nation’s atmosphere was filling with explosive and toxic circumstances: racial tensions, a sense of loss and a lack of justice as a result of ugly encounters between law enforcement and citizens, and the sad saga of our routine mass shootings. Police-involved shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota were the most recently added accelerants, yet nobody detected or predicted the explosion in downtown Dallas on Thursday.

A coward who, unfortunately, was better armed than the police officers he preyed upon at a peaceful protest proved that our country’s atmosphere had reached a breaking point. Whether he and his possible associates involved were mad or crazy, it does not matter. Something sparked an explosion that we now cannot take back.

Twelve police officers shot. Five dead. The half-life of shock and pain and suffering are just beginning to surface. The Washington Post keeps a running total of people killed by police: 491 in the past six months.

The mayhem erupting out of Ferguson, Baltimore and so many other places has been disturbing and threatening. But what happened a few blocks away from where JFK was assassinated 53 years ago should be proof that our atmosphere is unhealthy and could blow again at any moment.

Our bubble in Boise is just that: an idyllic but fragile and, perhaps, somewhat false sense of security.

I don’t mean to say we aren’t blessed here, or that we should expect a Dallas-like eruption some day. But we better begin to understand as a community and a nation that the gases of hate and clouds of contempt are up there, drifting, landing where they will.

I have three sons. They make their homes in Dallas, Brooklyn and Denver. I visit them and their families and friends as often as I can. On my last trip to Brooklyn a cabbie delivering me to my son’s apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant paused at an intersection where two NYPD officers were ambushed and slaughtered by a deranged man who wanted to “settle the score” against some police officers.

Later this summer I am headed for Dallas to see my oldest son, his pregnant wife and our 2-year-old grandson, who is learning the ropes of what big brotherhood entails. My other sons will join us.

We will be down there near Main and Lamar — the epicenter of the latest American societal explosion. My son works at a hotel just two blocks away.

We used to think downtown Dallas was a bubble — except for that incident on Nov. 22, 1963, at Dealey Plaza.

But today in Dallas and all across the country, everything is different, and not in a good way. Evil has made another frightening move on the sacred ground of law and order. In a text Friday my son referred to the crime scene as “the closed-off area” that is riddled with bullets, stained with blood and grief.

Unless we can reach out and begin to understand one another better — and stop letting skin pigment and ethnic suspicion trigger fear and the circumstances that beget sparks — our Challenger will blow up again and again, and our nation will sink.