Moms in search of humanity

I spent twenty-five years wearing a badge. I’ve lost friends and colleagues at the hands of hardened criminals and deranged madmen. I’ve hugged their family members and fellow cops, sharing our grief and asking, “Why?” I’ve also investigated countless shootings and murders, absorbing the visions of carnage, forever seared into my memory. I’ve hugged victim’s family members, sobbing in grief and unable to answer, “Why?”

As a human being I can be equally moved by the pain of mothers who have lost their children to gun violence or police encounters and the pain of slain police officers’ spouses and families. I think our common humanity requires us to see one another’s heartbreak and fear as the one important emotion that can unite us, regardless of what side of the social argument we’re on. If we can stop for just one moment to acknowledge the grief in our hearts, it might become possible to see our common humanity.

Perhaps that narrow but critical breakthrough might help us all to focus more on solutions to the violence that plagues our communities and claims the lives of far too many citizens and police officers. Despite the media narrative, fueled by extremists bent on using hate to vilify and divide by race and occupation, I heard a different message last night from a group of women bound together by loss. Their stories differ in detail, and I am very aware of the highly emotional debates raging on both sides of the thin blue line. So, I listened to the mothers speak with trepidation, uncertain of what message they might share.

What I heard were words of loss and pain, but also a plea for an end to violence. I also heard a message that most of you probably didn’t hear. I heard a statement of law enforcement support. It’s true. I don’t care what any news outlet tells you, Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, shot at a Jacksonville, FL convenience store over loud music said this:

“We’re going to keep building a future where police officers and communities of color work together in mutual respect to keep children, like Jordan, safe. Because the majority of police officers are good people doing a good job.”

I’m not certain how any of us could possibly argue with that. We all want that. We can argue about the how’s and why’s, and in a democracy we should have those debates. The deep wounds our country has experienced recently have exposed the folly of our continued refusal to listen to one another. Our denial of our common humanity and the pain of those outside of our social circles or rung on the ladder or race or profession is blowing up in our collective faces.

There is no other way to say it.

My friends, law enforcement is at a critical crossroads. Never in my lifetime has the danger of the job been more real. But, you have the backing of the vast majority of the citizens you serve. This is not some civil war of black communities vs. the police. Those mothers spoke unequivocally that they support good and decent law enforcement, and know that most of you are doing your jobs well. It is not incompatible to say you support police, but want bad police held accountable. Just as it’s not contradictory to say you support the community, but condemn those committing violence. This should be easy to totally agree upon. Bad officers make all of us less safe, whether you wear a badge or not. Real criminals should be dealt with severely, but not every activity should be criminalized. Gun violence is shredding the fabric of our society and making everyone less safe. The toll on us all is breaking every one of our hearts.

To those who continue to sow divisions by twisting words or editing messages for a negative agenda, please stop. You are not helping. I, for one, am willing to talk to anyone who wants to join together to find solutions. That is what my conscience calls me to do.

I can say #blacklivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter without a hint of contradiction in my heart. Our humanity matters. We can end this suffering, if we only start seeing and hearing each other.

Peace.

Angry Rants Aren’t Leadership

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. 1468280264-23109-57841d6ac46188ef6d8b456a-450x250

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.

Stop Saying, “Yes, but…”

What would happen if we all just stopped? If we could just for one day, one hour, or minute just stop to listen to one another? Could we listen with an open heart and really acknowledge what someone else is saying? Not with a “yes, but…” ready to go, that tells our friend or fellow citizen that we aren’t truly listening, that we still want to prove them wrong and ourselves right. Just listen silently and allow their feelings to matter and be enough.

This week, following the latest in a seemingly endless series of heartbreaking violence and loss, a friend of mine wrote an essay about tensions between the black community and the police. My friend is an African American woman who has spent her adult life working for causes of social justice, mostly for LGBT citizens. She is respected nationwide for her outstanding work, and I’ve said many times that she is one of the most articulate and intelligent people I’ve ever known.

I say all of this, not to flatter her or to build her up for anyone’s benefit. I say this because, for all the years of friendship, knowing so many things about each other’s lives, work and families, I feel as if I have truly listened to her story and feel it in my heart for the first time.

I read her unflinchingly honest assessment of my profession and my heart hurt. I wanted to stop, to turn away, to say, “yes, but…”

Then, I realized that I had no choice. As painful as the critical analysis was, she had infused the piece with such personal experiences that my discomfort became necessary. A necessary part of understanding my friend viscerally for the first time. She told of her great-grandfather’s lynching, aided by the county sheriff, and I sadly recalled the night she was injured during an unnecessary arrest early in our friendship. Her crime being a black lesbian speaking out for justice.

This is a person who might have every reason to join some group advocating for anti-cop rhetoric, but no. She takes us to task frankly and without apology, because we need to hear these truths. But then my friend does something amazing in our world of taunts and jabs and blame—she offers thoughtful, balanced solutions, that address realities on both sides. That’s what a real leader is supposed to do. I cannot be anything but humbled by her words and I urge you to read them as well.

So, I am sharing my friend’s thoughts because they matter. I don’t have to understand completely how she feels; I can’t because I cannot walk in her shoes. But, I share them because they are her truth and her truth is enough.

I’m listening.

There is no “yes, but…”

Saving Lives, Black and Blue

Blood in the Streets

When are we going to have the courage to admit we may not be 100% right? That maybe, just maybe somebody else may have a legitimate point? That my point of view isn’t necessarily the correct one, while yours just might have merit?

A year after a national commission on policing, that was supposed to give us some answers, there is still ever-widening gap between police and the Black community. Some in our own groups have tried to open discussions, to suggest that listening to other perspectives might help, only to be shouted down or shunned for daring to challenge a popular narrow worldview. My friend, the civil rights leader, gets accused of being not supportive enough of Black Lives Matter because she dares to recognize that there are many good police officers and saying that society needs good policing. I have been accused of disloyalty to the Thin Blue Line for suggesting that we should call out the bad in policing and get rid of those cops rather than look the other way, because they are making all officers less safe.

Blind loyalty is destroying us. Some cops dishonor the badge, others harbor a little or a lot of latent bias that colors their perceptions. We deal with bad situations every day. High crime areas tend to be low-income neighborhoods of color. It’s nearly impossible for it not to affect you. But not every person of color wants to harm us. We have to get a handle on this. The first way is trying to see the world through their point of view. We may not understand their mistrust, fear, or anger at policing, but we must allow them their perception and work to change it.

Likewise, to my friends of color: Not all cops are bad, most are not afraid of you. Most genuinely want to do a good, impartial job, and most do an outstanding job everyday. Not everyone in a uniform wants to harm you. But you must also allow for their perception and experience that tells them that far too many bad people do want to harm them. Many others will possibly harm them in a desperate attempt to escape. Either way, cops are in a dangerous spot. You, too, must open your mind to this alternate reality.

Healing can only begin with a bit of understanding. Understanding starts with contrition. If I hurt my brother, and refuse to apologize, just expect him to get over it, will he really think I’m sincere? No. This is why a true acknowledgement of grievances and appropriate apology is needed. Historical racial grievances must be addressed. This does not mean you caused it, but as a profession and larger community, we must concede systemic issues have caused Black citizens to distrust us. There is a real gap between how the majority of White and Black Americans feel about law enforcement because there is a very real disparity that has existed since the beginning of our country. We have to acknowledge this, even though we have not personally experienced it. We cannot expect African American citizens to suddenly forget their pain and move on without our demonstrated sincerity, which means real action.

I mean, look at the messages our actions send to each other. Some Police officers get into trouble repeatedly, (I would argue they are the bad 5%) and we allow them to stay on in policing. Sometimes we make them resign, only to show up in another city, and eventually doing something so egregious that they are finally fired or worse on the evening news. More often, those who are good officers, fail to confront those who cross lines big and small. We are silent when small injustices are committed. Silence is support. People see that and remember.

Flip side, communities too often allow bad behavior to escalate to criminality in our young people, refusing to help identify them to cops, until finally something serious happens, like their death or they commit a serious crime. Community members are too often silent at injustice in their own communities when good cops are trying hard to solve crimes and improve quality of life. Being confrontational or combative with an officer because another cop was an a-hole is the same thing as the cop judging you unfairly.

So, the way I see it is we have a choice: we can either do our best to honestly try to see one another’s viewpoint and work on our empathy, or we can retreat to our defensive positions, keep being thin-skinned and self-righteous, only listening to those who see the world through our narrow lens, sharing toxic memes, telling ourselves we’re right, and all the while, our friends and families will keep dying.

The irony is then we will be forced to recognize our most important similarity: The blood that flows in the street will always be red.

Why don’t cops fight for gun legislation?

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited…”. It is “…not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” –Justice Antonin Scalia, 2008, District of Columbia v. Heller

Today I want to ask a question that has been bothering me for quite some time, and I really hope my fellow law enforcement friends can help.

Why isn’t law enforcement the loudest voice for common sense gun legislation?

Before we get all fired up and defensive in our 2nd Amendment rights bunkers, everyone relax. There is room for all respectful debate here.

I’m a gun owner, military vet, and retired cop, so let’s dispense with the notion that I advocate any confiscation of firearms from law abiding citizens. But here’s what I cannot understand:

What is wrong with these two proposals?

  1. People who are on terrorist watch lists should not be able to buy guns.
  2. Mandatory background checks for every firearm purchase.

I honestly do not see how these requirements would infringe upon my 2nd Amendment rights. Seriously, I don’t.

I get frustrated because as a former cop, I don’t want criminals or mentally ill people to get their hands on guns. Right now, Internet sales have NO RESTRICTION. Any criminal, terrorist, or nut job can log on and buy any weapon they want. As much ammunition as they want. Are you kidding me?

I’m concerned about my friends and former colleagues’ safety. I don’t want a bad guy armed with pistols and a military-style weapon firing at cops. Because we know that’s what happens when the police respond. Why aren’t cops at the front line of this fight? Why aren’t we trying to keep bad guys from buying and trading guns with impunity and no background checks online and at gun shows?

Many say that criminals will always find a way to get guns. I’m sorry, that argument makes me want to scream. By that logic, we should just rip up all the statute books, because we can’t prevent 100% of any crime. Do we really believe that means we shouldn’t try to prevent some crime? I mean, we’ll never stop all burglary, rape, robbery, etc. We still work really hard to prevent as many as possible. Shouldn’t we want to at least make it harder for these people to get guns? Do we seriously believe that it’s a good idea that someone on a terrorist watch list can walk into a gun shop and buy a pistol, or unbelievably, an assault rifle?

And really, isn’t this about the fact that we all want our guns? Or we don’t want to be inconvenienced in the slightest by basic requirements that might delay our Craigs List purchase. Somehow, the lie has been sold that any mention of responsible restrictions equals banning guns. While some probably do want that, the vast majority of law abiding citizens don’t. We just want rational restrictions that keep the wrong people from getting them. I’ve heard repeatedly that the 2nd Amendment specifically guarantees the rights of ALL American’s to bear arms. I’m sorry, I don’t believe that. Even Antonin Scalia, the supposed champion of 2nd Amendment rights, didn’t believe that. Re-read the opening quote.

Reasonable restrictions are permitted. I’d argue reasonable restrictions are necessary. Cops deal with the heartbreaking realities of senseless gun violence and are put in ever increasing danger because of the proliferation of guns everywhere. If we truly believe that every citizen has the right to be armed, then somebody please explain to me why the 911 call comes in about a person with a gun, the police response is lights and sirens blaring, ready to do battle. Why is this a high priority call? We should do some soul-searching about this double standard we seem to have.

So, back to my question, from a purely officer safety standpoint, why aren’t cops pissed off that we can’t seem to take even the most basic steps to try to fix this?

The Pulse Massacre is a Hatecrime

All across our country and the world huge crowds have gathered in solidarity and grief remembering the victims of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre. When I see those crowds, I am humbled and moved to tears. Rainbow flags and messages of love flow freely without fear, purposely defiant, asserting that love will win. But I also hear others say we shouldn’t focus on the fact that the Pulse nightclub was targeted by an Islamic extremist because it is an iconic & popular gay bar in Orlando. We hear that we can’t possibly know that the location was targeted because it was an LGBT club, and it shouldn’t matter. We’re all Americans they insist.

On the surface this sounds great. I would love nothing more than to believe that LGBT Americans like me would be completely accepted into the fold of my country. But, that’s not what’s happening here. To dismiss the fact that this is a hate crime is plain wrong. To try to smooth over the fact that LGBT hate is one common thread between extremists in both Muslim and Christian Faiths is disingenuous, to say the least. This terrorist has been quoted as making statements of anger about seeing two men kiss, and in his Muslim associations, there is a focus on anti-gay teachings and bias. The LGBT community has been the target of nearly universal hate throughout history. That hate has been justified by religions all over the world. Just the past few months have seen scores of anti-gay legislation introduced throughout this country. In The United States of America, we are supposed to be different, our religious tolerance is supposed to guarantee the right of every citizen the freedom to worship, live, and love.

Although gay Americans finally won the right to marry a couple of years ago, most of us would still be hesitant to do something as simple as holding hands in public. For my friends and family who still don’t understand why there is a need for laws to protect gay people, that is how simple it is. I can’t even hold my wife’s hand in public for fear that someone might be offended and want to physically harm us. That is what makes this attack so insidious. For many LGBT people, a place like Pulse is one of the few havens from an otherwise homophobic and violent world. Saturday night’s attack changed that perception of safety. That’s what terrorists seek to do. They want to kill in places where we feel the most vulnerable. Pulse was perfect for this hellish objective. No different than attacking a church or synagogue or mosque. And just like the congregations of those places of worship, I hope that LGBT people will not let fear drive them from the places that offer affirmation, acceptance, and love.

When I see huge crowds forming in support for the victims of the Pulse massacre, I am hopeful. I’m hopeful that born out of this horrific tragedy will be a transformation, a realization that LGBT people are fully Americans, deserving of every right that most Americans take for granted. I’m hopeful that being Americans will the most important thing that binds us all together, and that we can forget about who I love and be glad we love just like you. Most importantly, we love our country every bit as much as you. Our LGBT DNA is another unique thread in the fabric of this great country, the diversity we have always celebrated as the strength that sets us apart from the rest of the world. That is what I hope to see—a recognition that we are equally American.

So, America, if we really want to make a statement of solidarity in the name of the victims in Orlando, let’s start by acknowledging the truth of the brazen hate crime against LGBT citizens. To be sure, if this had been an attack on a police station, we would of course say it was a terrorist targeting police officers. Let’s call the Pulse attack what it is: A hate crime and simultaneously the worst domestic terrorist attack in our history. To ignore the significance of the LGBT target is another way of minimizing the lives of LGBT people. Let’s all stand up to hate by being unafraid to say openly that 39 of our citizens were murdered and 40+ more were wounded because they were in a gay club. The victims were murdered not just because they were Americans, they were targeted because they were LGBT Americans. And all of America should say so.

Leading from the bottom

 

“The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale

The forced resignation of the police chief in San Francisco caused a bit of a stir in law enforcement circles recently. Chief Suhr follows a string of such actions, including the high-profile Superintendent in Chicago, and Chiefs in Baltimore and Ferguson. Chief Suhr and the others had long and distinguished careers by many accounts, and it is not my intention to disparage or throw stones at these men personally. However, it seems painfully obvious that doing business according to the status quo that has existed for decades is no longer working—for cops or the community.

In these contentious times, we need communication and leadership above all else. Policing in a democracy means change will always come as the public’s attitudes change over time. That’s reality. Law enforcement must always be flexible to adapt to those shifts, and leadership is supposed to drive change in a positive way. For instance, the 1966 Miranda ruling radically changed the rules for questioning suspects. No doubt, the chorus of doomsday predictors back then asserted that cops would never get another confession or make another case. Wrong. We worked smarter, adapted and got better at our jobs. We were fast and loose with stop and frisk, touting ever-increasing arrest and ticket numbers, but now we have to refocus on quality not quantity. Changes in pursuit policies and a host of other issues hasn’t ended law enforcement as we know it.

Our current reality is the proliferation of videos in our technology age that can celebrate outstanding police work, but also unfortunately exposes bad police behavior for the entire world to see. It’s not that those minorities of officers weren’t always there in our ranks, it’s just now harder to hide or ignore. That’s where we are today. So, law enforcement leaders have two choices: Rise to the occasion and drive positive change or lash out at anyone remotely questioning procedures and reinforce the status quo. Sadly, too many in leadership positions have chosen the latter.

The law enforcement leaders railing against any suggestion of change are not helping to bridge this divide with the community. I’ve seen these public servants say things like, “cops are afraid to do their jobs”, “cops are in a fetal position”, “cops are going to start sitting under trees”, or really incendiary things like “the mayor has blood on his hands”. Even the FBI Director has inferred that crime is rising because cops feel under attack. I have to shake my head. Some of these same leaders are the ones who sold the myth of statistical utopia, which pitted street officers against the communities they serve to begin with. Yes, these are difficult and stressful times, but fanning the flames and giving excuses to reactionaries who resist any change is not the answer. Lashing out against anyone who questions policing is not the answer. That’s not leadership.

Leadership requires honest self-examination and assessment for growth. Leadership requires that we reach across divides and listen to the communities we serve. Leadership urges the best officers to continue to do their best in spite of the noise around them, by reaffirming support for good work. We can’t partner with citizens if we continue to only look for blame externally rejecting any suggestion of self-critique or improvement. Criminals do kill more black citizens than police ever will. Yes. But that doesn’t excuse any cop from crossing the line. Law enforcement leaders need to re-evaluate and address our own shortcomings, not just whine about exposure of what we’d rather not have the public know. It is a shame that some in high-profile positions take such small-minded and defeatist attitudes. Their public statements pander to the worst behaviors, rather than the highest ideals of our profession. It’s lazy and wrong.

Forget leading from behind, that’s leading from the bottom.