There is Another Way
Here we go again. This time it’s Kenosha in my home state. No, police should not shoot people in the back.
The Kenosha shooting on Sunday, August 23rd, caused property to be damaged by protestors in nearby Milwaukee, my city of Madison, and miles away in Portland, Oregon. This should not have been unexpected.
Each time we hear the cry,“Black Lives Matter;” while other voices shout, “Enough is enough!” But is it? No, there will be more lives lost until major improvements are made in how we police this grand experiment called America.
We have two course of action ahead of us. We can continue as we have, hoping that this, too, will blow over and lose its steam. This strategy has worked in the past: A black man is shot by police,
outrage, violence and property damage follow, police gear up and fight with the protestors, politicians pledge reform. Then, as calm returns to the city, lIttle changes and we uncomfortably wait for the next incident.
This should be an unacceptable response by our government; it is foolhardy, and indicates we, as a nation, are unable or unwilling to fix the system that continues to produce disproportionate deaths to citizens of color.
Yet there is another way; a more effective way. It is the way of reconciliation. The problem today has become enormous and involves so many of us that we cannot do it city by city, or even state by state.
Additionally, the problem is confounded by partisan politics. As if “Black Lives Matter” and “Back the Blue” are mutually
exclusive positions. Good government and good policing should never be partisan.
Today, the job of a police officer has become untenable. Police need the trust and support of their community in order to keep the public’s peace. Unfortunately, today’s police officers work in an
environment where being a “good cop” no longer matter because of the behavior of a few bad cops. For many people today all police officers are suspected, violent racists and not to be trusted or supportive. It is a situation in which we cannot permit to continue.
It is unfair that one bad police action in one part of the
country puts all cops at risk throughout the country. With social media and video capability in today’s smart phones, millions of people see and make judgment as to what happened.
Police have become symbols of the oppression people of color in
our nation have struggled with far too long.
What now to do? The situation is so bad today that our nation’s police leaders must take the lead, stand up, and listen to what people of color are saying — deeply listen. I have said this before, and I am saying it again, black people are asking police to stop killing them. I deeply believe that this is the central question.
So, what is the answer? I have yet to hear it.
We must admit that the trust and support police need in a free, democratic and diverse society such as ours is at an unacceptably low point as two-thirds of black Americans don’t trust the police to treat them equally, while most white Americans do.
It is a necessary relationship in crisis. Who is at fault? Fixing the relationship is easier when one person admits to being at fault (I speak as a clergy person) and both parties want the
relationship to continue.
In such a situation, reconciliation begins when the person at fault makes clear and accountable changes in his or her behavior. A promise to do better only counts when the other party actually experiences the improvement. Verbal promises don’t count unless they are backed up by good behavior.
The problem facing us as a nation today is that many police leaders and their officers do not see themselves being at fault. In fact, they may see themselves as the injured party. That’s why this reparative effort will be a “long road home” for all us.
It begins with a deep, respectful, and caring conversation.
Earlier this week, I wrote about perspective; the ability of one person to “walk in the shoes” of another. Reconciliation between black Americans and police in their communities must begin
with this important step. Blacks and police must find a way to generously listen to each other and work together to understand why each party feels the way they do and what they would like to see happen to improve the relationship.
These conversations should begin in our towns and cities as soon as possible. It will not be easy. There will be many efforts to block, deflect, ignore, “push-back,” and prevent this from happening.
This is where leadership comes in.
In order for this to work it must begin the the police. It cannot be a reluctant or half-hearted effort. Police must try to understand how they came to the situation we all find ourselves in today. This will not be easy because it involves changing hearts.
But as a former police officer who has worked during my career to reconcile police with community members, I know reconciliation can work.
Understanding and love can replace hate and anger. It is, brothers and sisters, the only way forward. The danger lies in what Dr King warned us if we do not learn to live well together, “We will die apart as fools.”
Officers, will you take these first steps in your community?