Policing as Kindness

“Kindness: the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.”


Needless to say, I think a lot about policing — doing it and now watching. And this week, a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye caught my eye as I was preparing to address another part of my life — my life as a pastor — it was one of those times when the two halves of my working life merged.

What is this kindness of which the prophets of old spoke? This kindness which Micah described; that which God requires of us:

“Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”

Would not that also apply to those of us who chose policing as our life’s work? Was not kindness in our tool kit?  Let’s think about this. What would it be like if police in America were noted for the quality of being kind; to be seen as being friendly, generous, and considerate to all others regardless of their station in life?

What would that be like? From time time, police do exhibit kindness in their work. More often than most folks think. A police officer gives a homeless man his shoes, another holds and comforts a person after having to notify them of a loved one’s death, while yet another officer, despite provocation and insult, calmly (and kindly) listens, acts with respect, and explains (perhaps yet again) the situation, why the person has been arrested, what will happen now…and so on… and so on…

Can a police officer act kindly in the process of making a physical arrested? I think so. Kindness can be exhibited by one’s self-control, not personalizing the situation; only using the minimum amount of force to overcome resistance — and, afterwards, explaining what and why the arrest was made.

I invite you to read and ponder the following poem by Naomi Shihab Nye and think about how kindness could become a way forward for police to begin to build the trust, respect, and support that has been lost, perhaps never established, in many of our nation’s communities.

In the poem, Nye asks us to identify our losses, our grief, as being a way into understanding the practice of kindness; to understand that a person lying dead in the street could be you.

The deepest thing inside of us is kindness. It is kindness which makes us human (and I would add, effective police officers). It is kindness that makes sense of our life — kindness to one another in the station house and our daily interactions with others.

Nye tells us that kindness seeks us and having found us gives us the choice to either embrace it as a friend… or as a shadow.

For those of you in the field practicing the craft of policing, how can kindness work for you? What more can be asked of our police than to do justice, love kindness, and practice humility?


Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.


Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.


Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.


Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

— Naomi Shihab Nye


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