Not them, but us! Not they, but we! Not her/him, but me!
Law enforcement can either lead or be led on the issue of race in America
I write this from the perspective of an African American who is also a peace officer. The issue of race, specifically when it comes to African Americans, is often placed on the backburner by other seemingly pressing issues, whether it be a global pandemic, natural disaster, or terrorist attack. The problem with this is that every time we place it on the back burner, the boil over is worse each time.
As a profession, we have done everything we could to avoid dealing with race, but despite our attempts at avoidance, the issue keeps coming to our doorstep and each time the issue has grown.
The question for our profession right now is: Are we willing to finally deal with the race issue or are we going to hope it just goes away?
Here are three steps I believe we must take to confront this issue head-on and deal with law enforcement’s relationship with the African American community.
1. Admit there is a problem
The first step we need to take is to admit we have a race problem.
Many cops unfortunately are unwilling to admit this and those who do often state the problem arises from within society in general, not from within police departments.
Until we overcome this belief as a profession, we are not going to make any progress. Police officers come from society and we are not immune to societal ills. We don’t own all the racial problems, but we are certainly not innocent either.
2. Find out how we got to where we are today
The second step we need to take as a profession is to study history and understand how we got to where we are today. We cannot change history, so feeling guilty about something you can’t change is misplaced energy. Focusing on the future while acknowledging the past is our best path forward.
We must acknowledge that the institutional enslavement and dehumanization of African Americans has had lasting effects on our society and our profession. The most detrimental aspect of slavery was dehumanization because that has been passed from generation to generation so much so that it is embedded in our subconscious.
Again, we cannot change the past but pretending it didn’t happen and it doesn’t affect us today is not going to help address the problems we face.
3. Take the lead on the issue
The third step for law enforcement is to take the lead on this issue.
The elected officials and those who despise any form of authority or responsibility consistently drop this issue at our doorstep as if we are the sole cause of racial conflicts. But law enforcement organizations don’t hire their own chiefs, sign their own union contracts, run their own court system, manage the education system, or control the local economy.
Despite this, we are placed at the forefront of race issues because it’s easy to blame others for something you are not willing to deal with yourself. We cannot change these circumstances, but we can lead the charge to address racism today as society seems unwilling or unable to do so. We have an opportunity here if we choose to seize it.
I firmly believe 99% of police officers are not racist or prejudice but the 1% who express such beliefs are often allowed to continue to work and spread their vile words while others remain silent. I can attest from personal experience what happens when you challenge these folks and it’s not pleasant. One percent is a small fraction of officers, but think of it this way, almost everything we carry on our belt is geared toward dealing with the 1% of the population who choose not to follow the rules of society.
I believe if any segment of the American population is going to overcome this issue it will be law enforcement. We have the character, but do we have the will? You may notice I don’t single out white officers, I’ve been around long enough to know the problem of racism does not exist within one particular group. It’s time to stop arguing about numbers and data and whatever other matrices you want to pull out to bolster an argument that racism or prejudice doesn’t exist. We cannot solve a 150-year perception problem with numbers. We solve it by winning hearts and minds through admitting we have a problem we are willing to address head-on.
As an African American, I know what it’s like to be painted with a broad brush, mischaracterized by the media and blamed for all societal ills, as many in the law enforcement profession are experiencing for the first time. It doesn’t feel good. It’s time for us now more than ever to get out of the chatrooms and into our neighborhoods. Our neighbors are longing for leaders, not keyboard bandits.
We cannot delegate the solving of this problem to them, they, her, or him. We, me and you are where we will find the solution. I still believe this is the noblest profession on the face of the earth and we can do anything we put our mind too.
NEXT: It’s not time to turn away – it’s time to become law enforcement change agents