We are at a time of crisis in our country. Police and community relationships are strained as never before. Everyday I hold my breath when I open the morning edition of the news, bracing for a new headline of violence. Communities are mourning the loss of citizens and officers, and although we disagree on many underlying causes, one thing we can all agree on is that all responsible citizens want the violence to stop.
In the midst of all of the bloodshed and heartbreak our country has endured, especially in the past few weeks, fear has taken hold. Fear can be healthy when it pulls us together for the common good or fear can fuel divisions and morph into suspicion, blame and hate. Each new tragedy further shreds the fabric of trust and provides justification to entrench ourselves more deeply in opposing positions. Our feelings of helplessness and vulnerability lead us to search for answers in our faith and our leaders. But we must find the right leaders.
When I talk to my law enforcement friends, I hear the stress and fear because it feels as if the attacks are coming from all sides. The murder of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge was an attack on the fabric of society, and the outpouring of love and support nationwide certainly shows that average citizens are with you. Yes, even those who belong to protest organizations like black lives matter denounced violence against police officers unequivocally. In fact, those peaceful demonstrators had spent an entire afternoon amicably with the Dallas PD before a madman decided to act. Because evil will always try to divide us in the most heinous ways and our most vulnerable moments. That’s why we need leaders with a steady hand and temperament.
When we feel unappreciated and under siege, it is tempting to lash out, to give into our fears, but we must not become what we hate. Some law enforcement leaders seem to be pouring gasoline on the fire, taking every opportunity to antagonize and amp up officer’s understandable anger and frustration. Getting on the news or making national speeches filled with vitriol but no solutions only deepen the divisions and make your officers or deputies less safe. While it might be popular short term, perpetuating the Us v. Them mentality doesn’t help, because we all know that we need each other to survive.
We need leaders who call us to our highest selves, not those who feed our darkest and negative thoughts. We need leaders to unify, not further divide. We need leaders who understand that hate shuts down the heart and solutions only come when we are open to hearing another point of view. We need leaders willing to talk to activist leaders to find real solutions.
Exceptional leaders have stepped forward in the past few weeks. Leaders of faith reached out following the Orlando massacre to acknowledge the role of religion in the demonizing of the LGBT community throughout history. They carried messages of love and non-judgment to start open dialogue about ways to bring LGBT people fully into the faith community, in order to stop the hate and violence. Dallas Police Chief David Brown, while acknowledging his anger and grief, also told us that his department will not abandon community policing or allow them to turn away from their outreach.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said this following the murder of three officers in Baton Rouge, “This is not what justice looks like…It’s not justice for anybody, and it’s certainly not constructive. It’s just pure, unadulterated evil. We’re gonna start our conversations here in Louisiana and around our communities, with community leaders, law enforcement, government officials and faith leaders, so we can find out together where we go from here. And there isn’t any one of us who can fix this, but all of us together, can and will fix this problem together. I don’t have all the answers and I know it won’t happen overnight. But I know we’re going to come out of this stronger.”
In our time of unprecedented volatility, law enforcement leaders must reaffirm the values we swore to uphold. We cannot shrink into a defensive crouch that silences all dialogue or spout dangerous rhetoric to sound as if we are at war with our communities—even our most crime-ridden communities. An eye for an eye only makes us all blind. Dangerous rhetoric will not help us to come out of this stronger.
4 thoughts on “Angry Rants Aren’t Leadership”
Well said! We all have work to do.
Thanks, Chief. I’m ready.
I thought he had some good points about relying on police to handle mental health and other problems. His idea about hiring for people to work locally is good but some of that hiring should be other educational or social jobs. It seems to me that a major part of the solution should involve more funding for education and efforts to teach how to avoid problems before they escalate to a point where police have to be called.
However I wasn’t quite so impressed with his comments about his officers being “faster than a speeding bullet” etc. implying they might be supermen. It might sound good but to many people fall for these fantasies without paying attention to practical solutions.
Also they claimed they were getting back to normal before the Baton Rouge shooting although I don’t see how they could have addressed the problems they had. I suspect they were sweeping them under the rug.
In addition to reforming the worst police they need to bring back jobs, stop wage suppression and other things that contribute to long term escalation of violence.
Zack, thanks for our comments. I agree, one of the things we have to think about on the community side is getting back to solving some of our own problems. I have a dear friend who is a community leader. She tells people: Talk to your neighbor before calling the police–it shouldn’t be the first time you’ve met. I think all of us, police and citizens alike, have gotten a bit lazy and wanting a quick fix. Problem solving and communication take longer…but what’s our hurry? Most calls are not the critical situation in need of split second action. I am dismayed when I see instances like recently in South FL. There was no hurry. Slow down and make more informed decisions. It won’t prevent all escalations, but we should want to reduce them where we can.