As a child, I was taught to respect those who were called to serve. It didn’t matter if it was the person who delivered the mail, someone who was in the military, a doctor, a firefighter, or a police officer. These individuals deserved my positive considerations and appreciation for the work they do.
I can’t imagine having a job that could potentially have me engage in a life threatening situation for myself or others. For those who answer the call to serve, this duty requires strength, courage, and mental fortitude. Whenever... shots are fired; they rush in; a house is on fire; they rush in; whenever there’s a health crisis; they rush in; there’s a bad accident; they rush in! From the most simplistic to the gravest of emergencies... they rush in! These brave individuals willingly risk their lives to serve, protect, and eliminate threats to safeguard others’ well-being and to protect this nation.
Notwithstanding, recent negative encounters with law enforcement have led to the murders of too many black men. As a result, there is growing outrage, is backlash, are unjustified attacks, and also unprovoked killings of numerous police officers. These events deserve condemnation and protests; however, taking vengeful actions to ‘get even’ will not make things any better.
The outcome of these horrific acts can cause increased tension, fears, and escalations of sometimes volatile race relations. As a black man, I strongly understand these frustrations, anger, and desire to bring an end to something that at times seems to be a systematic elimination of black men without any justifiable cause. Moreover, it’s infuriating to watch – time and time again – the increasing video evidence of repeated, unjustifiable murders with no one being held accountable. Nevertheless, this doesn’t justify the assaults or killing of innocent individuals (whether black men or police officers).
I don’t understand the anger or projection of guilt upon all police officers because a few of them did something reprehensible and at times criminal. Moreover, there isn’t value in creating a mob mentality or environment that individuals are determined to be guilty by association. If association is a criterion, then consider the hundreds of thousands or more police officers who serve willingly, honorably, and respectably. Conversely, it also must be recognized that black men aren’t a greater threat just because of skin color. Black men as a group are honorable, respectable, and beneficial to society, too.
Personally, I don’t want to serve my community in this way. Furthermore, I don’t know if I would be willing to risk my life daily to protect others. For those who do, I offer the upmost respect and heartfelt thanks for your service! These brave men and women – without hesitation – leave the comfort and security of their homes not knowing the uncertain dangers that might be encountered that day. This is just one reason that these warriors should be celebrated every day.
The negativity and disrespect against officers isn’t limited to physical attacks. Recently, a police officer in Alexandria, VA was denied service after a cook refused to prepare her order, along with a cashier laughing with the cook about their actions. This incident led to community outrage and calls for a boycott of a well-known restaurant chain. Fortunately, company representatives took swift and decisive action to fire those who were involved with this deplorable behavior. In response to the mistreatment of this officer, another local establishment – Atlantis Pizzeria and Family Restaurant (Alexandria, VA) – offered a free meal for a week to police officers in this city and the neighboring county of Arlington, VA to demonstrate appreciation for their work.
I’m very proud that some of my high school friends actively chose to risk themselves to protect others. One of them --- Sergeant C. Downs, became a police officer because he always wanted to help others. This desire to serve the community was something he felt compelled to do. Another example is Technician V. Johnson who was inspired to service because of a neighbor who was a firefighter and a paramedic. Mr. Johnson was fascinated by these on-the-job- stories, which drove him to pursue this career. Yet another is Deputy Dennis Compton who tragically lost his life in the line-of-duty on August 6, 2008. Deputy Compton was a gentle soul who wanted to make a positive difference by protecting his community. These gentlemen are exemplary examples of my heroes who dare to put on uniforms to make a difference in the world.
Officer Downs added, “People should understand that we’re human, too. We have families and loved ones. We have emotions and bleed just like everyone else. To this day, every time I do a traffic stop or get dispatched to a call, I have a heightened sense of awareness. I think to myself: Am I going to get killed this time; am I going to have to fight for my life; will I be able to help this person or resolve the issue? I never stop getting scared. I believe that if an officer stops being scared, that’s a problem. We are only human and it’s just instinctive to be scared. Being scared helps to save your life on the street. The majority of police officers aren’t bad people; we just want to help”.
Serving as a community protector and defender has both physical and mental challenges. The physical side is usually understood, but there aren’t always considerations about the impacts of the mental side. Sergeant Downs said that it’s important to learn to separate work and family life. However, this isn’t always possible; therefore, his wife is an essential part of the restoration process to deal with his emotions. As for Mr. Johnson, he uses humor and discusses gruesome cases with other first responders, along with exercising to combat stress. He also said that it’s important to learn to not bring the work home with you.
Admittedly there are unresolved societal issues related to the alarming number of deaths of unarmed black men. Even with this truth, engaging in violence against innocent individuals who serve and protect isn’t the answer either. The solution to these critical dilemmas begin with “uncomfortable conversations” to address the source(s) of these issues, intolerance, and prejudices. Another step toward the resolution of these challenges requires reviews of policies, changes to organizational/societal culture, meaningful punishment for those who commit wrongful acts, involvement within local communities to drive substantive changes, votes to ensure officials who want to make a difference are elected, and other purposeful acts to create positive progress/changes.
To everyone who boldly, bravely, and appropriately serves to protect our great nation every day… I appreciate, respect, and salute you!
award-winning educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author/writer, program executive, and radio host