Bridging the Great Divide – Police and Society
Over the last two years, I’ve been asked many questions about law enforcement, some more difficult than others. This weekend I was asked a question that I often ask myself.
“How can we address the obviously existent issue of abusive cops, while maintaining a strong base of support for wonderful men and women like the officer who, a few weeks ago, sat in the cold, wet mud next to my car and told silly jokes to my frightened son to keep him calm while I gave my statement to another officer, and the paramedics about the stoner who jumped in front of my car? If you can guide me, I promise to do my part to end the divisive mess that currently exists in this country on this issue.”
My knee jerk reaction is to say, “I don’t know. If I did, I would have solved it all by now.” Bridging the gap between the lovers and the haters often seems insurmountable. The background of the person who posed the question makes it even more complicated, she’s had some pretty crappy interactions with law enforcement as well as some good ones. At the end of the day, the bad interactions have left more of an impression than the good. How do we get over that hurdle?
It’s not easy and I fear we never can. So where do we start? We start with ourselves; that includes law enforcement. Internally, LE has to work to improve the way they function, how they treat each other and how to move forward in an ever-changing society. As a society, we also need to do better.
It’s instinctive to be afraid of dogs if you’ve been bitten in the past, that same instinct applies to people and how we are treated. We fear people who look like the people who have hurt us in the past. We need to see each officer as an individual, not as a collection of clones. Each officer is an individual being with their own thoughts, experiences and fears. The one in front of you is not the one that stopped you for speeding last week, s/he is probably going to treat you differently. Look at each interaction as meeting a new person and try to keep an open mind.
Accept that just like any other profession, they have bad days, make mistakes, get tired of their jobs, and sometimes just have a sucky attitude. How many times have you gotten the wrong order at a take-out window? Had a cashier treat you rudely? It happens. I know policing has a greater impact on the community, I know we expect more, but we also have to accept that not all cops are or will be perfect. Don’t sweat the small stuff, let it go. If they are just being a jackass, let it go. We’re all jackasses. If it’s more than that and it needs to be addressed, report it through the proper channels, not social media. You’re only contributing to the frenzy.
Believe that they want to be better, that they are trying and they hear you. Don’t believe it? Find out. Talk to them. Read up on them. Research. Don’t believe everything you read in social media. Be responsible, find out the whole story. What makes them tick? What are they doing to make things better? What really happened that day? Don’t blindly accept what you hear from the lovers or the haters. Find out for yourself before you judge. Believe that perception and reality are two different things.
This is the hardest of all, I struggle with it constantly. Having spoken to hundreds of police officers around the world, I’ve heard a lot. I know a lot. I know there is a middle ground, I know it’s a fine line to walk. I also know that I am not going to agree with everything the lovers say and sometimes I am going to agree with what the haters say. It takes a lot of courage to see the opposite viewpoint and admit that you understand. This is why being brave is so important. If you are brave enough to see the other side, to find the middle ground, you will encourage others to do the same. They won’t feel as if they are standing alone. Argue both sides, agree that neither side is 100% right. Each person that joins you is one more person that can help mediate and lessen the tensions between the sides.
The key to solving any problem is being open to solving it. Asking what to do, is the beginning of another bridge that we so desperately need.
I’m not sure if this is the right answer, I could have gone down a completely different path and quoted statistics, told you about the trauma that many police officers suffer, tried to convince you with passionate quotes from police officers or tell you to read my books. That’s not the way to convince you, you have to convince yourself.
So how can you help? You have to start dialogue, you need to find out what it is that troubles you specifically and then find out whether it’s your perception or reality. Only then can you have realistic, productive discussions about law enforcement that will cause people to meet in the middle. You also need to take action, in support of the good and against the bad, individually, not as a collective. They aren’t all good and they aren’t all bad. We know. But they are all human and therein lies the biggest problem, we expect them to be more than human.
– Karen Solomon
(Photo courtesy Juan Beltran)