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I was recently talking to subcontractors on a job site and someone said something that made me frustrated and angry. Before I get into what was said, let me be clear that I do not have all the answers. I, like you, see the world from my perspective—from my own lens. Our perspectives and opinions are largely shaped by our own personal experiences. When it comes to racism, we are undoubtedly influenced by where and how we are raised.

But let’s talk about what I heard on the job site. A white man in his 60s said, “I just don’t get it. That man was higher than a kite, what was the officer supposed to do? Now the media is encouraging another crisis while we are still dealing with the last one they created.”

I was shocked, saddened and disappointed in what I heard. The conversation stayed friendly, but I was quick to respond with strong disagreements on every point of his comment. Since then, I have been asking myself this question: “How do we all see things so differently in this country and where do we go from here?”

While I write this, riots are occurring across America. As I watch the videos and hear the voices, I see so much pent up anger and frustration. The potential for injury, death and permanent destruction of human life is overwhelming. The images on the news look like they’re from another country. This can’t be my country, can it?

Because of my background as an ER doctor, I look at these videos and imagine first responders, paramedics, firefighters and law enforcement officers doing their best to manage the crisis and help innocent people in harm’s way. It makes me sick to see the fighting, and there is no excuse for this type of violence. These riots will only make the problem worse. They put good law enforcement officers in danger and intensify racial tensions.

With that said, we must start a larger discussion about racism in America. Unfortunately, racism is alive and thriving in our country. It’s an ugly part of our moral fabric that we choose to deal with sometimes, but ignore most of the time.

This week my 15-year-old yelled for me and with tears in her eyes and said, “Dad, you’ve got to see this video that just went viral.” I could not believe what I was watching—the killing of George Floyd on that video is grotesque, inhumane and disgusting. I found myself yelling at the screen: “Check his pulse!”, “He is unconscious!” and, “You are killing him!” My frustration exploded when EMS arrived and instead of giving life-saving care immediately, they elected to “scoop and run.” Run from what? I yelled again at the screen: “What are you doing—open his airway! Put him on oxygen now!” I looked at my daughter and said, “I am so sorry you had to see that.”

This video has struck a nerve with America. Maybe it was the minutes that seemed like hours on this video? Maybe it was the arrogance on the face of the officer? Maybe it was the ER doctor in me, watching a trachea being crushed, oxygen being deprived from lungs and vital organs? Or maybe it was the fact that it is happening again? Whatever it was, including this video appearing in the middle of a global pandemic, has caused me to feel fatigued with a system that allows Americans to be murdered. As a nation, we need to do something different. And soon.

Before I get personal, I want to thank law enforcement in the Treasure Valley. While I am sure racism exists in our community, during my 18 years working alongside police, paramedics and firefighters, I can say that I never, not even once, experienced anything but professionalism during many difficult circumstances in the ER. I am grateful for those brave men and women who serve our community. I believe the culture in our Valley established by leaders like Sheriff Gary Raney and Sheriff Steve Bartlett, to name just a few, creates a culture that we should be proud of. Clearly, this is not the case in many other parts of the country.

Now to get a little personal.

My opinion on racism completely changed a few years ago when our family was blessed with our daughter-in-law, Ashley. She is beautiful, talented, compassionate and kind. She is studying law at LSU. Ashley grew up in Boise. She attended public schools, played sports, studied music and did all the normal things our kids do. However, her experience was not my son’s experience, because Ashley is black.

Does racism exist in our state? You bet it does. We now see the world differently as a family. No longer are we a white family from Boise, Idaho. We are a white family with a black daughter-in-law. Our grandkids will be black. As I hear others talk about their experiences with racism, I am saddened and sickened by what they see and feel. Personally, I now have questions that have a great impact on me. How will my grandkids be treated when they are pulled over? How will they be treated at school or on a playground?

I know I already feel very differently when I see and hear others comment on racism in America. If you would have asked me a few years ago to comment on racism in Idaho, I would have told you, “It’s not that bad.” If you ask me now, we have a long way to go in Idaho!

My point of getting personal in this week’s opinion article is to plead with you to open your hearts and minds as we journey through this latest crisis together. I am certain the contractor who made those comments last week did not intend to be “racist” in his views. The point is, he was, he is, and we all have a long way to go the United States of America.

I am grateful for an amazing daughter-in-law who I love with all my heart. She has taught me courage and grace. I am proud of her and my son for the way they handle the racism they encounter. I am hopeful that my grandchildren will grow up in a Treasure Valley that is better equipped to combat racial injustice. But those changes only come when we are honest and open about the reality of racism in America.

Like I said above, our perspectives and opinions are largely shaped by our own personal experiences. Race relations are complicated. Riots are not the answer and never will be. But we should take this time in our homes, in our social circles and in our communities to not only condemn the riots but to openly discuss racism and discrimination in America.

We are blessed to live in the greatest country in the history of the world. But when it comes to racism we are flawed, fall short and have a long way to go. It is my hope and prayer during this challenging time that we can all take some time to dig deep and understand our own flaws, that we can grow and be part of solutions that will bring us together as a country.

With so much tension pulling us apart, we need all the goodness we can find. Let’s do make this a better world for our kids and our grandkids. We can do better—I know we can.

Tommy Ahlquist, a former emergency room doctor, is the CEO of BVA Development and co-owner of Saltzer Health. He ran for governor as a Republican in 2018.

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