“Unless this first step is taken, and leaders have the courage to act on what is reasonably suggested, the safety and effectiveness of our nation’s police will continue to be in peril.
My sense is that most police leaders get a high-level of support from those in their community that say they are doing just fine. “No need to change, Chief. Those ‘Black Lives Matter’ folks are racists themselves. And, by the way, where can I get one of those yard signs saying ‘We Support Our Police’?”
I worry that this unbalanced support is giving our nation’s police leaders a false sense of security and actually preventing them from moving forward and sincerely responding to this problem.
Let’s look at the facts. There can no longer be any doubt there exists a tremendous chasm of trust between police and people of color. To continue to deny this is to engage in deep, personal, and dangerous self-deception.
In the past, police-related crises have always gone away. All a leader needed to do was wait. Therefore, to “bunker-in” was a good strategy to maintain the status quo. No so anymore. Social media changed this forever. With thousands upon thousands of video images available to anyone and everyone, the problem of police use of deadly force can no longer be ignored. It demands a response.
“Coffee with a cop” programs, free ice cream cones, or instructions to black youths as to how they must act in the presence of police will not solve the problem, nor will any of the other “police-community relations” programs of the past.
What is needed today is new and creative thinking to repair the trust-gap that presently exists between police, poor people, and racial minorities. Many of the first steps will not work, but a progressive, 21st century police leader presses forward to find the right prescription, the right way. The first steps will not be easy. When they are attempted they will be met with resistance, mockery, and even aggression. But who should take that first step? Those who are aggrieved or those whom the aggrieved believe have caused the problem? A leader takes the first, and maybe even second and third and fourth steps.
Police chiefs must now prepare themselves for, perhaps, the most difficult period of time in their careers; a time in which, regardless of the onslaught, they must be willing to approach again and again communities of color with honest and authentic openness. Then they must ask the question above all questions: “What can I do to regain your trust and support? Please, from the bottom of my heart I am asking you!”
How leaders ask this question will be as important as the question itself. How leaders generously and graciously listen to the answer without getting angry, defensive, or emotionally closing themselves down, is the most critical part.
Will our nation’s police chiefs be open to this; appearing alone, by themselves, before various community meetings and deeply listening and remembering to what is being said? In my experience, it won’t get any better until this is done city after city throughout America.
This kind of intense community experience will be lonely, unsettling, and anxiety-provoking, but unless this first step is taken, and leaders have the courage to act on what is reasonably suggested, the safety and effectiveness of our nation’s police will continue to be in peril.
And, by the way, this is what leadership is. Unless the chief is the first one to do this, how can he or she ever expect officers who work day in and day out in poor and minority communities to be able to continuously do the same thing with the objective of improving life in those communities?