Officer, When the Going is Tough, the Tough Get Going!

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I know things are tough out there on the street. It’s no fun to be hated
when you know that you are a “good cop,” not like those on YouTube shooting and
beating people of color.

I know how you feel. I was there. I just read supplementary report I filed in 1967 when I was on a detail to help protect our chief of police (Minneapolis) in the midst of civil rights protests. Such anger! Such hatred! I thought I was one of the good cops who was beginning to understand the racism that was all around us. Personally, I didn’t like it. It certainly was not fair. How come all these black people protesting, yelling, calling me a “pig,” didn’t know what a good cop I was?


That was around the time in my career when I began to understand that I was society’s “litmus test,” rather than to test the pH factor in water, I was there to test the promises of society. When under-represented, poor people, people of color, young persons, and others, feel society is keeping its avowed promises, the litmus test id cool; the nation seems to be trying to keep its promises about fairness, equality, and equal opportunity, the streets are peaceful.


But when promises are not being kept and police show up to calm things down, the litmus test (you) is red — and today it is red-hot! Over 700 cities in our nation have had held protest events. Something is happening.
I know, this is not fair. But what I resolved to do during my years as a street cop and then leader is to be the kind of cop who is fair and just — one call at a time; one personal interaction with those who were most upset with police. I wanted to leave each encounter with a litmus test that was “cool blue.” You can, too.


After a while, I got more and more frustrated with those cops who did not share my concern and my efforts to be a fair and just cop. So, I stood up. I worked on my education, paid more attention to my interactions with others and applied for various police chief jobs. I knew then that leaders matter, leaders lead improvement. In the first few interviews I had around the Twin City metro area I was not successful. Eventually, I was. I was selling a new vision, a dream I held, that given the right circumstances and the right leader, a group of cops could make a huge difference. And they did.


Dear officer, please understand what’s going on. You are our nation’s “litmus test” and you are suffering our nation’s continued ignoring of the injustices among us – broken promises. You are the representative of our nation’s way of life, its values, and they are being challenged once again for their hollowness in our system of education, deliverance of healthcare, care for our environment, the paucity of our national leadership – and now, you and your fellow officers.


Be strong. Be better. The same kind of courage that calls you to run toward gunshots is now asking you to be part of the solution. It will take even more courage.


You can do this. But you must stay; you must not falter.