As headline after headline tells of a nation torn by race and the stories that follow give vent to anger of  “ambient terror,” as New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote, I am taken to the rare thing few in the media talk about, but which I have been exploring for the past year — solutions to all of the above. And they do exist.

Thankfully, I have had the peace of our Island paradise and the encouragement of  Vineyarders, who though far removed from the maddening events of Dallas and so many other places recently, are nevertheless eager to hear about ways to deal with America’s most challenging issue.

As the nation mourned the killings by police of two black men in recent days, I was taken back to the conversation I had with former Montgomery police chief Kevin Murphy, who made news when during the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, he presented civil rights icon John Lewis with a badge. It was a sign of atonement for the violent attacks unleashed by Selma police on peaceful civil rights marchers back then. When Officer Murphy, who is white, later became police chief, one of his first acts was to get the police academy to institute a class on biased policing. It was called Policing in a Historic City: Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs. He told me he thought it was important was to go “way back in history to the Dred Scott decision up to the Emmett Till case and expose some of the injustices black people had suffered,” what he called “the dark reality of it.” He said he hoped the class would help a possibly fearful 21-year-old officer have a different reaction when he got pushback from a 60 or 75-year-old African American, whose last encounter with a policeman was negative. 

And he said he saw progress.

“You saw those walls starting to break down where the officer took a little time and understanding and, you know, the complaints of the police department started to go down significantly and I saw, you know, a greater bonding between us and the community,” the chief said. “But, again, it was a teachable moment for these young officers because they hadn’t experienced a lot of the things that this other citizen had.”

In an earlier conversation Brian Jackson, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, echoed Mr. Murphy on the importance of police knowing the history, especially of blacks. And he, too, believed there are ways to narrow the fractured relationship between that community and the police.  

“When you look at the rhetoric around sorts of challenges about police oversight, police are concerned that members of the public who don’t know what high-pressure interactions where the police officers are at risk work, and are concerned that they’re not going to make fair judgments about — you know, about the police officer’s decision-making after the fact,” he said.

He continued: 

“Members of the public are obviously concerned about that decision-making, because it’s in that decision-making where we get uses of force, where we get decisions about who gets searched and who doesn’t, who gets stopped and who doesn’t. And so there is an element in this where, you know, increasing transparency in those interactions to give the public more data, more information . . . . I’m a researcher, so I go back to the data and information as a solution.” 

Even with the horrific incident in Dallas, where a deranged gunman murdered and wounded policemen, Dallas, like Atlanta and a few other cities, has made a lot of progress narrowing the divide, not least by employing more policemen who look like many of the people with whom they must interact. For even as education may help arm white officers with more than guns, the fact remains that the majority of police in most  places around the country are white, and the optics, if not the actions, are not those of a country in transition from the current white majority to a majority of people of color.

I often hear that this transition is leading to white fear and also causing a lot of the white anger  today. I am not convinced of that, although it is a meme in much of the media. My own view is that there is too little early education and ongoing good information out there. Professor Linda Tropp at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst has studied the racial divide and how to narrow it. She argues there is as much fear among blacks as there is among whites: “From the perspective of members of the black community who are being policed, you know, lives are at stake. I can understand completely how there might be fear. And you know, talking with students about the manifestation of fear, it’s also this sense that members of the black community are not part of the community that police are designed to serve and protect. There is the sense of separation, that I’m considered a perpetrator of crime, not necessarily part of the public that should be protected, so the police are not for me or serving me.”

Her solution based on her research? Community policing, now beginning to work in a few places, including Gary, Ind., whose mayor, Karen Freeman-Wilson was just on the Vineyard and is one of my most recent conversations on the PBS Newshour. The city’s high murder rate has actually come down in recent years. And she and Linda Tropp argue it’s extremely important for policemen to actually spend more time getting to know people in neighborhoods, including  shopkeepers. “. . . . getting a sense of how people respond to you, helping them see that you’re not necessarily a threat . . . . And you can think about this, how if you only interacted with a romantic partner when you have to fight about something, that relationship is probably not going to go very well,” Ms. Tropp said.

She also talked about white fear and how to confront it, noting that when people feel anxious, they tend to shut down.   

“We’re a little more likely to depend on stereotypes for how we perceive people and how we respond to people,” she told me, adding: “So, if we give people opportunities for real engagement across group lines  — and these need to be repeated actions. It can’t just be one experience. And often for those folks who say, I tried and it went terribly, I try to remind them when you first try to learn how to play tennis, you don’t know how to hold the racket right. When you’re first learning a language, you’re not automatically fluent, that these skills take time to cultivate.” 

Or as the Rev. David Billings of the People’s Institute for Survival which has worked on eliminating racism for over 30 years put it: “It’s usually, like, people will say, well, you’re speaking to the choir. And we say, yes, but the choir has to practice every Wednesday night, you know? That’s what you got to do. You got to keep going at it.”

Many of the people I had  conversations with cited the fact that far too many people get their information from only one source, which tends to reinforce their fear and/or their prejudices. And the solution for that is to get smarter, go broader.

During my conversations with so many people who are students of race and racism, despite the current moment of  “ambient terror” or “winter in America,” as Gil Scott Heron once called one of America’s earlier moments of division, I have found most to be as optimistic as I am — believing that however long the arc of the moral universe tends to be, American race relations, as they have historically, will continue to bend toward justice. Our Island paradise is a well-lit path along that journey.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault is currently working as a special correspondent for the PBS NewsHour doing a yearlong series called Race Matters: Solutions to Racism. She lives in Oak Bluffs.