Steve Hartman on the words that matter

Healing in a week of violence

On a day like this it is always hard to find words. That's why we turn to tears. That's why we bow our heads.

That's why we stare blankly at our TV screens whenever they fill with the kind of horror we've seen across America this week.

I may be a writer, but I've got nothing for you today -- not to make it better. But I think I may have one word that could help deescalate this crisis.

It's a word that has been noticeably absent from most of the protests.

You don't see it on signs or Facebook memes -- because it's not a word that incites people.

The missing word is "some" -- as in, "some police are bad" -- or conversely "some police shootings are justified." And it doesn't have to be "some." Any little modifier that takes the blanket out of the statement can make a big difference in tone.

I was struck yesterday by an interview with Michael McClanahan, president of the NAACP in Baton Rouge, who went out of his way to include the modifier.

"What we're going to do is root out the one percent of the bad police officers that go around being the judge, the jury, and the executioner of innocent people, period," he said.

What if we all followed that lead? What if at the next march people shouted "Black lives matter -- and good cops know it." Or, "All lives matter -- but we recognize it's mostly the black ones that are being lost."

Mayor Rawlings: "Very ironic" Dallas police were targeted in ambush

Just because our skin colors are black and white doesn't mean we can't speak in shades of gray. Or, as the Dallas mayor put it, words matter:

"I think that we have a tone in this country right now that our bellicose nature comes through our mouths and we need to shut them and listen."

That's good advice. Because when it comes to race in America, we can retreat to our corners, but at the end of the day we're still sharing the same room.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.