Skin Deep

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July 7, 2016

As I labored in a hospital 240 miles away, twelve Dallas-area police officers were shot, five fatally, in an act of senseless violence. Watching this tragedy unfold, as my body worked to bring new life into this world was a humbling experience. I knew that I would always remember this night, not because it was the night that I would welcome my son, but because it was a tragedy that would bring racial tension between African Americans and law enforcement to the forefront in a way that could not be ignored. I made a promise to myself that night that I would raise my son with compassion, and with understanding, and I hoped that in his lifetime he would witness unity, and the chasm that exists would be no more.

 

September 21, 2016

In the two and a half months since Will has been on this earth, there has been more blood shed — of both law enforcement and African Americans at the hands of one another. Now, I have, and will always fervently support law enforcement. These men and women put their life on the line each and every day that they suit up to protect and serve our communities and our nation. BUT, just like any other group – there are bad apples. And if you’ve never experienced a bad apple, on the outside, it appears just like any other apple, and it’s not until you bite into it that you realize your misfortune. And therein lies the problem; you just don’t know who you’re dealing with. The argument could be made that this is an issue with any group, but the problem with that argument is that police officers are public servants. There is an expectation that these individuals are of the highest character, and moral standards, so, when bad ones mix in with the good ones, the systematic mistrust begins.

Admittedly, I’ve often said to myself that people need to accept that there are going to be bad people in the world, and that you need to just do the right thing and you’ll be fine. I was being insensitive. I was saying that through the lens of a middle-class white woman. I’ve never felt that if I were to get pulled over by a police officer that it might turn into a precarious situation. Now, I don’t know the statistics, or the numbers behind officer-involved shootings of African Americans vs. that of caucasians, but, perception is reality, and if it is even for a second perceived as an issue, then it is an issue. That’s right, IT IS AN ISSUE.

It’s easy to say that both sides just need to respect one another and to make this madness stop, but, if it were that easy, wouldn’t that have happened already?! This is where we come back to the idea of police officers being public servants – their oath is to protect and to SERVE. And so, so many of them do this so well. These individuals are pillars of the community, so giving of their time, energy and well-being, kind hearted, and good, but, no matter how great of a person you are, if you’re not taking action, you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.

As a public servant, we (and I say we, because as a teacher, I am also in the public service industry) have a responsibility to serve our customers – our communities. And that includes people that may not have the most positive expectations and/or views of who we are, or what we do. Now, my job doesn’t involve the risk that law enforcement officers experience, however, if I am not seeing the results or behaviors/attitudes toward me from my students that I want to see, then I have to look at the antecedents to this behavior, and I have to see how I have managed my classroom and my interactions. I can’t expect for my students to change, unless I have changed their experience.

Hand in hand with the idea of public service, and changing the experience is the idea of holding public servants responsible. When we allow the bad and the good to mix without consequence, we lose effectiveness, and we lose trust. If the unions and agencies continue to protect those who are undeserving of their protection, this vicious cycle will repeat itself over, and over again, and the good officers are burdened with the repercussions of bad officers. At some point, responsibility must be shouldered, and if that means tearing down the blue curtain, then that is going to have to happen, you are only as strong as your weakest link. Change will not happen unless one side gives up some ground — and the ones whose job is to SERVE the public are the ones that must do this first if we want change.

Enough is enough. Enough with my friends having to worry about their sons, husbands, brothers, cousins being in situations where a traffic ticket could turn into a potentially fatal situation. And on the converse, I don’t want my friends in law enforcement to have to worry about being targeted because of the actions of a few. We need to be worrying about lives, and not about sides.