Talking to Police in These Troubled Times

UnknownOpen Letter to Our Nation’s Police

 It’s a bad time out there. It’s very bad. It’s bad because great number of people today say they mistrust their police. That’s not a good situation, but now is not the time to get defensive; this is not a time to run for cover but to interact and be visible. This is not only important regarding the effectiveness of your work, but also your personal safety.

I was a cop for over thirty years beginning during our nation’s Civil Rights Movement. When I saw what was going on around me as a 23 year old beat cop, I knew I needed to make some changes.

Today, it’s just as bad, if not worse. This is a tough time for police everywhere. Among the anger on the street and in the media, we must be able listen, deeply and generously listen. We must come to understand the painful story being told. People of color believe we have continued to treat them unfairly and violently based on the color of their skin and not their character. They also believe we are part of an overall and far-reaching system that is engineered to do just that.

Now the “you” they talk about may not be you personally – it’s the collective “you” to which they address. But what each one of us, each and every police officer in America does from this day forward greatly matters. We must keep our cool and authentically act fairly and respectfully to every person we encounter. Bad habits and language have got to go.

Until all of us in America can begin to work together to solve this lingering and pernicious national wound called racism, all of us are in physical danger and it won’t get any better by ignoring the situation or pointing out that “they” are the fault and not us. Individually we can make a great difference — if we begin right now.

The place to which we all need to finally arrive is reconciliation. It should have happened in the past but it didn’t. But reconciliation takes time, years to achieve. In the meantime, first steps can be taken. One first step is to understand the other person’s position; apologize for the harm that has been done; and then upgrade our own behavior.

Upgrading means education, more of it, We need to understand our nation’s racial history. We have to be competent, well-trained, able to manage conflict and regulate our emotions. We have to be physically and emotionally fit; controlled in our use of force. We need to always be fair, honest, and decent in what we say and do. And most of all, in our contacts with persons of color, young and old, our conduct has to exemplary – respectful, even when the other person is not; repeat: even when the other person is not. On our beats, we have to be good listeners, build relationships and work with people to solve their problems, not ours. In short, we need to be leaders and organizers as much as rule-enforcers.

These are the characteristics that a police officer needs to have who works in a diverse, free and democratic society such is ours. Nothing less will work. Many of us are already that kind of officer and I believe most in our nation knows this and are thankful. Through the times of trouble ahead, we all must continue to be the best police officers we can imagine and not give up.

But if you do not see yourself as this kind of officer, perhaps having slipped over the years in being the kind of officer you once were and find yourself wanting in one or more of these areas of proficiency, you need to do something about it: you need to do a personal inventory, improve, build competency in each one of these areas and be fair and trustworthy while you are doing it.

If what I have said angers you; that you see the problem only in one light – “their” problem – then I suggest that perhaps policing a diverse society such as ours may not be your calling.

I have outlined what is needed to move this nation forward.

It begins with us, police taking the first step.

I trust you will see the wisdom in this and act nobly…

Now let’s begin the conversation…