Community activist, Camp Cadet: The seeds of what we need

We seem to be living in dangerously uncivil times these days.

Typical political disagreement has been elevated from argumentative discourse to nasty, vulgar tweets to threats against institutions and elected officials to calls for uprisings and public harassment of the nation’s leaders.

While we pride ourselves in this country on the exercising of our First Amendment, free speech rights, there is a line that marks the boundary between respectful use of that freedom and a dangerous exercising of it.

We are clearly edging near that line.

How do get back to the proper, positive exercising of our speech that still includes respect?

We have two examples in Lycoming County that could be used as a model for the nation, one organization and one person.

The Lycoming County Police Camp Cadet program is in its 42nd year of fulfilling the need for a connection between police officers and local youth.

This year 99 campers, ages 12 and 13, went through a one-week mini-police academy. For just $20, they meet police and learn their routine and meet other youth from all walks of life.

Perhaps most importantly, they find out police are human beings who do a lot more than simply arrest people.

They find out police are not the enemy, but rather protectors of people who deserve respect for the incredibly difficult job they do. Are they perfect? No. But do they have the best interests of the people they police at heart? Clearly, yes.

They are learning this at a time when police are being confronted, spat on, shot at, and killed at an alarming rate.

We are guessing Richard James, a community leader and activist who died recently, would not have approved of this manner of free speech.

Mr. James was a community force without resorting to bully tactics or shrill threats.

He raised important questions about racism and inequality he encountered growing up and other political issues that need a public airing.

But he did so in a manner that fit the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

While not shy about challenging people publicly, he did it with a positive, professional and non-violent emphasis that valued actions over talking.

He showed people that our society, its flaws, its leaders and the issues that divide us can be challenged in search of a better way without grandstanding or inciting of counterproductive violence.

We are at a crossroads in this country. We can be the hopeful democracy that we have always been, solving our problems with respectful discourse and an understanding that institutions meant to keep us free, safe and orderly should be valued. Or we can become like so many lesser nations, havens of disorder that lack the seeds for positive development of people and political improvements.