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OpinionColumnistsMike Vogel

Sorry, but life isn't black and white

Demonstrators gather outside the funeral service for Eric

Demonstrators gather outside the funeral service for Eric Garner at Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn on July 23, 2014. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Timothy A. Clary

From Staten Island to Ferguson, Missouri, to Central Park, the battle lines have been drawn, and God help anyone who thinks independently.

You think the cop in the Michael Brown case may have acted in self-defense? What are you, a racist? You think the Eric Garner apparent chokehold was unnecessary and unjust? What are you, anti-cop?

Even if you think carriage horses don't belong on city streets, but are fine in Central Park, prepare to feel the wrath of extremists.

In our polarized society, anyone who keeps an open mind is suspect. In an age of Fox News, MSNBC and people who only talk to the like-minded, critical thinkers who take issues, people and situations one at a time are too often attacked instead of praised.

This tribal thinking has led to a split in our city, nation and Congress. Anyone who honestly weighs the merits of each case and issue without having a knee-jerk response, who has empathy and sees nuances, may be targeted as a sellout. Parents of all races who teach their children that kindness and compromise are virtues and to judge people on their merits and behavior, not on their skin color or background, too often don't practice what they preach.

Charter schools. The Middle East. Name a complex issue, and there will be true believers ready to pounce if you don't toe the "correct" line -- theirs. But despite what these boorish ideologues would have you believe, most issues aren't black and white.

People say they want an honest dialogue about race. Then let's have one, without extremist bullies shouting down anyone who has the audacity to see two sides of an issue. White people who admit they tense up when they see a group of young black men approaching, or black people who tense up when they see a cop, both coming from their experiences, shouldn't be chastised, but heard.

I have spoken with cops who feel misunderstood and underappreciated, as well as people whose life experiences have led them to doubt the criminal justice system and fear the police.

Do we really want to have an open dialogue about race and other issues? Then time to lower our voices, open our hearts and minds -- and ignore the thought police.

Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at


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