To Fix the Current Imbroglio Between Police and Citizenry…

…no one should care what I think, necessarily, but every American should think through this situation,  then try to develop an opinion not solely fostered on name calling, hysteria and race baiting. Then, I believe we should work on long-term solutions to the issues we discern as primary.

Here are some of the issues:

In various locales around our nation, certain of our citizens have lost their lives on American streets. As an American citizen, I am not proud of this undeniable truth; some of our fellows have died prematurely. The most noted ones are young(ish) men, like, Michael Brown and Eric Gardner and the unnamed 12 year old boy killed in Cleveland, Ohio. Cities from California to South Carolina have seen the deaths of unarmed citizens in recent years. The deceased are often black Americans. They are citizens of the United States of America.

The persons I mentioned are often refereed to as “unarmed.” I will note that “unarmed” does not mean non-lethal. Certainly, however, the aforementioned persons were not as well armed or as numerous as the persons they faced. Disaster was the result for all concerned. The persons who died are victims, of course, as are the Police Officers who faced them in deadly confrontations.

It is also important to note that many of the violent deaths in our nation each year have nothing to do with our police forces. That is, until someone must call the police to report a murder.

I think it is also important that we do not judge or condemn either group wholesale, African-Americans are not violent by nature, or deceitful or evil, any more than the general population. Police officers do not start their shift thinking how much fun it would be to shoot or choke another human being.

Police officers in all our cities routinely face danger on the most innocent seeming response calls. Constant vigilance on the part of police, which is a requirement for the job, can contribute  to depression and inappropriate responses to stimuli on the part of police. Constant disrespect and harassment by citizens (and non-citizens) can keep patrol officers on a razor-edge of emotions.

At the same time, the death of any citizen (or non-citizen) on our streets must be taken with the deepest sorrow. If for no other reason than their humanity, the loss of any one person diminishes us all. There is no one person we can easily lose or lightly sacrifice.

However, our Police are not bad people, or racist or homocidal. I served fifteen years as an unpaid Police and Fire Chaplain in a small town in Texas. I did hundreds of hours of ride-alongs, counseling, delivering bad news to relatives and working with prisoners. In that time, I got to take the sacrifice of our Police and Fire Officers as a matter of course. The newest Patrol Officer is an Officer of the Peace, committed to protect and serve their communities. There are some folks in uniform who may need to find their life work elsewhere but the vast majority of Police and Fire personnel are dedicated professionals who never start a shift thinking, “I do hope I get to shoot someone today.”

Police Officers are Officers of the Peace. They face the usual stimuli prone to stress American workers and then a good many more. For instance:

  • Peace Officers are never actually off-work. Off-duty does not mean inactive, inert or even inattentive. A trained counselor understands the emotional toll on the human psyche when one must be constantly hyper-vigilant. PTSD symptoms include the after effects of hyper-vigilance. Peace Officers live with these stresses.
  • Peace Officers are underpaid and undercompensated for their service. I do not know what it would take to get me to do what they do but the money involved would not be a great temptation.
  • Peace Officers receive constant negative stimuli from the citizenry they are sworn to protect and serve. Imagine a job where people constantly lie to you, blame you for their problems, obfuscate their issues, carry weapons and intend malice. Now, plan to do this job day after day.
  • The evident break-down in accepted moral standards is never more evident than that which our Peace Officers face daily. Authority figures are routinely treated with contempt. The adolescent daughters of the American President are subjects of scorn in social media, cor instance, by persons wishing to hurt their parents, for instance. We live in a difficult cultural milieu. We are an increasingly vulgar people. Peace Officers feel the brunt of our vulgarity.

All this said, there have to be some changes in our culture. Eric Gardner and Michael Brown had something in common beyond their ethnicity  and violent deaths. They were not of the American socio-economic elite.

We have to change the ways we interact with one another across socio-economic strata. I do not intend to be a class warrior like Marx but people who have not feel stressed by the haves, who themselves feel set upon my the lower classes.

Here are some things we might see.

  • Some of our social interaction has created a permanent sub-class, or under-class, in our country. No one wants to be relegated to the gritty under-belly of a culture, but there are people who have less hope than others. Look up the now classic Moynihan Report from 1965. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) was a rare political genius, able to see around the bend in time with perspicuity. His report detailed the coming results from a legislative schedule certain to create a culture of Haves and Have-Nots. There are people who feel very left out. Eric Gardner was allegedly selling loose cigarettes on a street corner (illegal) and Michael Brown was allegedly stealing tobacco and menacing store owners (certainly illegal) and police (illegal). The initial alleged offenses against each man were certainly not a capital crime. There is a real need for a legislative and social change to include more of our citizens in what used to be “The American Dream.”
  • Our citizens must feel safe on our streets. Illegal activity, no matter how seemingly innocuous, is not tolerable. An inch given may become a yard taken. Peace Officers must keep the peace from all sides of the law.
  • While we cannot undo the effects of fifty years of misguided policies, we can stop digging the hole deeper. If legislation can be used to break up families and promote promiscuity, the same legal codes can be changed to make a safer place for immigrants and the poor. If the least among us is made more secure some of our social tensions might ease.
  • We ought to celebrate the  right of peaceful protest. The decibel level of protests is governable only inasmuch as those around it can tolerate the noise. Peaceful protests should be considered thoughtfully. The protesters may have a case. They certainly have a point and, as citizens, they most certainly have the right to make their point peacefully.
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