One of the most important aspects of Community-Oriented Policing is to develop the simple art of listening — not just, “Yes, I hear you,” but as Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen puts it, to listen “generously” to the other person.
Far too often, people who have power/authority over others (like police) are not very adept at listening to their “customers,” those who use their services. However, it is a skill that can and should be learned.
Since 2014, and the events which transpired in Ferguson, Missouri, I have heard a request being asked again and again by black Americans of their police, “Stop killing us!” I don’t think this request is being heard; it certainly is not being granted.
If our nation’s police were to effectively grant this request, the number of persons killed by police since the Ferguson uprising would have been reduced. Instead, they remained relatively the same at about 1,000 persons being killed in each succeeding year, up to and including 2019.
It is a simple request, “Will you, or won’t you? Yes or no?” I have noticed that once asked this request is quickly thwarted, convoluted, and twisted: it morphs into “I’m sorry, we can’t. The law permits us to us do this.” Or the discussion moves to officer safety and “don’t Blue Lives Matter?” — as if they didn’t always matter.
But as a pastor and former police leader, I think we should seriously grant this request and put measures immediately into effect that will help put the minds of black America at rest and rebuild the trust that barely exists today between them and their police.
Because this request has not been granted, people are on the streets today protesting the death not only of George Floyd, but scores of other deaths of black men through the years. If not for ubiquitous smart phones, these deaths would not be as explosive as they are today. Millions of Americans have viewed this striking videos. When the shooting of Laquan McDonald was released, Americans witnessed a street execution by police officers.
Many of us know the names of these black men and women. We have seen stunning videos portraying their deaths. This is why every black parent continues, year after year, to give “the talk” to their children. Because the request to stop the killings has been ignored may be why some people, in their anger, loot and burn buildings.
How might this request be granted? Try this.
“As a police leader, I understand that you deeply hear fear for your children. I see the numbers you do, I feel your pain and anger. I agree that they must be reduced — eventually to ZERO.
“I want to grant your request to your satisfaction — so that the fear you have of your police will be no more and the killing will stop. That’s my goal.
“Here’s what I will begin to do NOW– no excuses, not after a study, not tomorrow, but NOW!
- Effective today, the standard in our police agency for the use of deadly force will be “absolute necessity” (the current standard in the European Union). It highlights our commitment to the sanctity of human life, all lives.
- In dangerous, life-threatening situations, our goal will be to resolve them with proven de-escalation techniques short of using deadly force. We may have to use force in containing a situation if a person is a clear and present danger to others — in these situations, we will seek to employ less-than-deadly force.
- Our rules of conduct and methods of training will reflect these values.
- Additionally, we will train all members of our agency in Peer Intervention, which requires members to agree to intervene (and be subject to intervention by their peers) if they see another member of the agency acting in way that may result in their discipline, dismissal, or criminal charges.
- We will check with you and others as to how we are doing – evaluating our services and being accountable through a public system called “Open Policing.”
- I personally apologize for taking so long to understand and grant your request. I deeply apologize. I ask for your forgiveness. In order to do this, I will need something from you — that you will work with me so that we are able to serve you with respect, openness, accountability, and compassion.
This, I believe, will move us forward.
It will take our passion, persistence, and courage do so.
Much work still needs to be done — and we need to do it together.