With all that is going on in our nation and has been for the past few weeks, I felt the need to pen this letter. I started to write it to a friend of mine… and then to my family… and then to fellow officers… and in the end decided it was just best to write it to every American. Why? Because my outlook takes into account, from my perspective, every American. Now I’m going to ask you to read it all from start to finish. If you find yourself aggravated part way through, don’t stop. Give me a chance. Read everything I have to say and see if my outlook makes sense to you. If you disagree with some part, please feel free to email me comments or to comment below.
A few weeks ago I felt myself experiencing a sense of angst. The stress I was feeling was caused by disagreements with people whose opinion of me was important to me. They were people whose opinions I valued and if they thought less of me, it caused me concern. Two of those people were my sons. Most folks would assume that I have a lot in common with my sons and that our outlooks would be relatively similar. There are some similarities but we certainly have our disagreements. What concerned me was that if I expressed something in a conversation that they disagreed with, I somehow felt that it lessened their opinion of me. My sons… of course their opinion matters, right?
Then there was another friend. This friend and I couldn’t be more demographically different. I am a Caucasian male heterosexual and she is the opposite of all of those: an African-American female homosexual. The few things that we have in common are our military service (we’re both Army veterans), our appreciation for good cigars and our appreciation for intelligent conversation. We have had some intense conversations in the past and we’ve always been able to express any differences in opinion in such a way as we could at least respect each other’s outlook – even if we didn’t understand it.
For all that we have in common, there are some things she has experienced that I will never be able to fully understand. No matter how much I try, I will never know what it’s like, or was like for her, to grow up black in America. I will never know what it’s like to grow up female. Even pulling on our common background of military service, I will never know how her experience differed from mine because of our different cultural backgrounds and genders. Still, we are good friends and her opinions have always been of value to me. She’s always had great insights to share and we try to learn from each other as best we can.
Recently I have either angered or frustrated both she and my two sons. None of them can understand why I don’t understand their outlook on Black Lives Matter, the riots, etc. I can, and have, listened to them but find myself unable to accept some of the reasoning they share for why they believe as they do. All I can do is try my best to explain why I have the outlook(s) I do and hope that it makes sense. The last time I saw my friend there was some tension between us and I did my best to express my concern that I had somehow damaged our friendship. She reassured me that our friendship was fine but that we weren’t in a good place, mentally and emotionally, to have any further discussion at the moment. That’s exactly the kind of emotional maturity I’ve always appreciated from her (and I hope she from I). If one of us isn’t, at a particular moment, feeling right for a rational discussion about a given topic – no matter how easy or difficult – we simply say so and move on. The existing stress from coronavirus restrictions hasn’t helped any of us either.
About a week later I was at a different cigar shop and found myself involved in a discussion with about a half dozen folks, most of whom I had just met the first time that day. With the exception of my wife, everyone in the conversation was male and the demographics were about balanced. The really cool part was that we were able to discuss the difficult topics of the day and even if we disagreed on policies or tactics, we agreed on the values we shared and our goals: an equitable and peaceful America. How to get there? We eventually came to the conclusion that the problems we’re seeing today are “generational,” and by that we meant the problems had taken generations to create or evolve and they would take generations to fix. What would it take?
We agreed it would take greater communication between the law enforcement community and those we served in the various jurisdictions across America. We agreed that it would take a greater level of active parenting, that being parents who played a bigger role in the day to day lives of their children, most especially during the formative years, but also throughout the child’s teenage and early adult years. We agreed that it would take parents NOT telling their children to be afraid of the police; it would take parents STOPPING telling their children that policemen would take them away if they misbehaved. We agreed it would take a concerted effort for all parents – or at least the larger majority of them – to teach their children that being a police officer was an honorable and admirable career and that law enforcement professionals were meant to help first and enforce second.
I made the statement that it would take accepting “All Lives Matter” over “Black Lives Matter,” and was immediately met with some angry comments. It was interesting, and we discussed it, how when I said “All” some of them immediately thought “police.” They recognized that wasn’t what I said and that when I said “all” I meant ALL. I meant every American of any race, color, creed, gender, age, etc. When I was asked to explain why I preferred All Lives Matter over Black Lives Matter I did my best and will share it here.
It’s my perception – and admittedly others have different perceptions – that the phrase Black Lives Matter implies that black lives are more important than all other lives; that every other life should be sacrificed for any black life. I take issue with that because I’ve known good and bad people of every color. I would never sacrifice a good person for a bad person, no matter what color either was. So, I amended my preferred phrase further: All Good Lives Matter. Some took issue with that because they perceived that to imply that black lives couldn’t be good. I had to point out that such was their perception and not my intent nor what I said.
When asked why I couldn’t simply agree and be quiet when someone said Black Lives Matter I explained that I felt that was only partially true and simply agreeing with it was agreeing with a partial truth. I explained that while I completely agree, Black Lives Matter, so do Asian lives, Aussie lives, European lives, Mexican lives, Eskimo lives, Native American lives, etc. Rather than having to add all that in, I just prefer All Lives Matter.
“But all those people aren’t being wantonly killed by the police just for the color of their skin,” someone said. I had to think about my response to that and try to word it carefully. What I replied (in essence) was:
“I don’t believe any race is being wantonly killed by the police just for the color of their skin. I know too many police officers who haven’t pulled the trigger when they would have been fully justified to do so. I don’t believe any police officer gets up in the morning to get ready for work eager to take a life… any life. I don’t believe that the number of black people killed by the police in the course of doing their duty is out of proportion or outweighs the numbers of other races killed by police.”
“Then why do we keep seeing so many stories about it on the news?” I was asked.
“Because it serves the media’s purpose,” I replied.
“And what’s that?” I was asked.
“To make money,” I replied. Everyone in the conversation agreed with that. Without any exception, every person there agreed that the major broadcast companies exist, first and foremost, to make a profit for their shareholders. We all agreed that profit was tied to ad revenue and ad revenue was tied to ratings and ratings were tied to sensational stories. Reluctantly, some of them agreed that the media was no longer being impartial in their reporting of events and that they intentionally manipulated what they reported for the purpose of increasing their revenues.
It was most interesting when one man there – a Caucasian married to a woman of color – pointed out that if every white officer really wanted to kill all black men just because, I would have committed four or more murders rather than having a courteous conversation – even if it was a difficult one. That thought startled a few of those in the conversation.
That led to a conversation about police officers and deputies being human too. We all agreed that no one is perfect and that there’s a difference between a mistake made in the heat of the moment and a malicious abuse of authority/power. We all agreed that George Floyd deserved to have been treated better and that all officers involved had a duty to perform more professionally, including providing Floyd with medical care once his distress had been identified. We all agreed that the four officers involved performed at best unprofessionally and at worst criminally. We all agreed that those four officers do not represent every other officer in our nation.
I explained how serious I take my oath to protect and serve and how important it is to me to do my duty to the utmost of my ability for EVERY person I encounter. I finally think I was able to express why I insisted on saying ALL Lives Matter – because I didn’t just take an oath to people of color. I took an oath and swore a duty to every person regardless of their color, cultural background, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. I explained that I was raised to view police officers as admirable and honorable people and the profession one of service and sacrifice. Every person involved in the conversation agreed that it still is today.
So then I asked, “Then why are we trying to defund them?”
And no one had an answer.
Folks, the major media outlets spout sensationalistic drivel without concern for how society will react, and indeed with the hope that society will become enraged. They leverage that into more “news” to feed the fire – but the only thing they produce is larger ad revenue. Politicians pander for votes. Very few consider their oath of office and fewer still will be critical of their elected counterparts unless it somehow benefits them politically to do so.
We – all of society – have to be better than that. We have to stop seeing politics. We have to stop seeing race. We have to stop seeing rich or poor. We have to start seeing people, separate good from bad and support one another as we try to build a better world. I beg of you… each of you reading this… to join me in this quest. None of us is perfect and it’s wrong for any of us to demand perfection from someone else. We’re all human. Let’s start with that and move forward.