As I recently wrote about, a grad student in my child psychology lab where I am a research assistant (RA) is designing an anti-police study which will inevitably lead to people making ill-informed, poorly researched, and biased judgment calls, culminating in the conclusion that “police trust is a racial privilege.” My fellow RAs have BLM supporter written all over them, and unsurprisingly they were all very gung-ho about this ever so enlightening project.
But when I confessed yesterday to one of these eager RAs that my boyfriend is a police officer, I was shocked by her response.
It’s rare nowadays that I “come out” as a law enforcement supporter or admit to the cardinal sin of dating a cop, because every time I’ve spoken in defense of the profession, I’m shot down and harshly judged. People unabashedly hate on my boyfriend’s profession, and I have developed intense mistrust myself in anti-law enforcement proponents. However, this particular RA and I were alone at the time and the conversation happened to lend itself to this confession.
So it was that I began describing some of the horrific anti-law enforcement hate crimes that have occurred recently—and, naturally, go uncovered by the media—as well as how much fear this instills within me. I cry almost every time I talk about how proud I am of my boyfriend for doing his job in a world that’s essentially pitted against him. It’s not just because it’s hard and scary; it’s also because he’s an example of police officers actually doing good, and he and his colleagues couldn’t be farther from the negative cop stereotypes.
Since meeting me, my boyfriend has used his experience with my history of mental health issues on three separate calls to encourage suffering women to get help, despite their resistance to treatment. In each instance he spoke openly about me, and what he said was profound enough that they agreed to do what they needed to do to start the recovery process. I got choked up as I told these stories, doing my best to explain that many, many wonderful police officers exist who do amazing things for those they protect, yet they go unnoticed and unappreciated by the news because it doesn’t fit the media’s anti-law enforcement narrative.
I had been avoiding eye contact with the RA for the last 15 minutes because I was so sure of the negative reaction I’d receive, and because it’s always awkward to shed tears in front of someone you barely know. Finally, I looked up at her.
She was crying.
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It took a moment for me to register that she, your stereotypical woke white girl who buys cruelty-free eggs, was… listening? She wasn’t shutting me down; she wasn’t shaking her head; she had paid attention to every word, seen my raw emotion, and felt it too.
At that point, this girl had to go to lab meeting, which I was skipping because they were going to be going over the study design and I cannot cope with that. However, I wanted to bring up some of the points I made in my article about the “police trust” study and told her I was nervous to do so because I didn’t want to be ostracized and judged. Amazingly, she offered to raise those points on my behalf, and also advised the grad student that “we would have to be aware of our own biases when interpreting the data because we all have strong opinions based on this topic and as hard as it is, we’d have to really try to leave it at the door.”
I followed up on our conversation in a lengthy message to her when she and the other RAs returned from the meeting (since one of them was already gushing about how excited he was to be working on the grad student’s “cop thing”). In the novel I sent, I did my best to clear up common misconceptions and expose the harsh realities of loving someone in law enforcement.
This is a condensed version of her reply:
I’m also so glad that you shared all of this with me because it helped open my eyes. Every time I would hear of a police encounter, I tended to always be close minded so I’m very grateful to you for helping to open [my] mind to not just another side but a personal perspective… No group of people should ever be told to die or have their lives threatened so to hear of people saying those things is just terrible… Be proud of [your boyfriend] because what he does is amazing and I truly hope that you can find people in your life that won’t judge him (or you) for his profession because he sounds like a wonderful man.
After another lengthy message from me with further clarifications and attempts to shed light on the behind-the-scenes of policing that people think they know but really don’t, she said:
I’m truly very appreciative of you being willing to share all of this with me, just a few conversations has already changed my outlook and I’m so glad that I have this perspective now.
Here’s my point. Today, I realized that I too can be close-minded. For valid reasons, I assume most anti-police people will respond a certain way, but is that fair? Isn’t that being as close-minded as the people who assume anyone who supports the police are racist and insensitive? Radical activists fight fire with fire; the least I can do is to take a step back and take the higher road.
Fear of judgment and ostracization prevent pro-law enforcement people from “coming out” all too often. I’ve been excommunicated by two close friends in the past year and I’ve had to leave college classes because of my stance on the matter. In my time supporting the police, there have been far more failures than successes, but this girl has proven that not every single person with a negative opinion of law enforcement is unwilling to listen to a different perspective.
Although leading with emotion can be a poor tactic, when you are trying to reach those who base their facts and opinions on feelings and dehumanize the profession, sometimes taking the objective or aggressive approach isn’t the best way to go about it. I would never have done this in a class or large group, but if you bare your emotions and simply let them see how much you love a police officer and how their anti-police views affect you… maybe, just maybe, they’ll listen. It humanizes you, and in doing so humanizes the men and women they are trying to hate.
Lastly, if you’re going to talk to an anti-law enforcement champion, make sure you focus on raising awareness rather than attempting to convert someone. This RA had no idea and was shocked when I detailed the intensity of anti-law enforcement sentiment today, and that in and of itself shifted her perspective. Sadly, the media doesn’t cover that side of things, and while it won’t necessarily solve anything, at least BLM supporters who might have previously jumped on the bandwagon can become aware of the ugliness that we face too.
This one interaction wasn’t earth-shattering, but it was a tiny ray of hope and filled me with relief and even a little bit of optimism. Maybe it’s the media that’s polarizing people when in fact there are more open-minded individuals out there than you would think. The real problem is that nowadays, nobody even starts conversations with those who don’t agree with them because it’s so emotionally and socially risky. Take it from me: If you are ever in a situation to have a one-on-one, earnest discussion with an anti-police proponent, make that leap of faith. It just might be worth it.