There are few jobs that require employees, in the course of performing routine duties, to check in every few minutes to assure co-workers they are not seriously injured or dead. But as a police officer, that’s part of my daily routine.
Friends, let this sink in. A teacher is writing her lesson plans for the next week and every few minutes, the principal calls her room to make sure she isn’t dead. A nurse is making rounds, handing out medication, and every few minutes, the charge nurse calls his phone to make sure no patient has assaulted him.
That sounds ridiculous. However, if I stop you for a traffic violation, I am expected to answer when the dispatcher calls every few minutes to check on my welfare. While you are berating me and asking why I’m not out stopping “real criminals,” someone downtown is waiting for a timer to go off to again check to make sure I am alive. To make sure that traffic stop does not cost me my life.
I have been searching my soul and seeking and listening for months upon months to understand this complex issue of race and policing in America. There are people whom I love and respect on both sides of this issue. This has led me to wonder why there are “sides” of this issue at all.
As a profession, policing has a long and honorable history. For hundreds of years, millions of honorable men and women have served their communities with honor and integrity. They have served, they have protected, they have laid down their lives for strangers and friends.
But we cannot deny the other very dark side of the coin. Our history as a profession has been marred by officers who use their power in unjust and violent ways. That cannot be denied. Whole communities have been affected by this abuse. As a result, people are afraid and their fears are not unfounded.
Officers are in a difficult position. When we watch a video that shows an officer unjustly taking a life, we feel a hollow place in the pits of our stomachs. And we have discussions about those videos, usually only among ourselves.
I am privileged to work for a department that seeks to build partnerships and understanding with our community and is intentional about transparency. I serve every day with honorable men and women. We seek not only to serve and protect but to improve our communities. We are not perfect and we make mistakes, but we truly have a heart for serving our communities and keeping all our citizens safe.
So why then do you not hear us speaking out publicly denouncing corrupt officers? I believe this is rooted in fear rather than denial. I cannot speak for everyone, but I believe that most of us fear being lumped in with the bad apples. Working for this department, I do not conduct myself, either personally or professionally, in a way that is colorblind. Instead, I seek to understand and appreciate the perspectives and needs of people different from me. So I, too, fear being lumped in with the corrupt officers when my very life depends on the respect of the community.
After what happened last week in Dallas, you can be sure that our lives depend on the actions of officers hundreds of miles away from us. Officers have long known this, and I think our citizens are beginning to understand.
As all of these thoughts tumble around in my head, I am struck by the fact that people of color who do good in their communities and seek to build bridges of understanding are probably feeling the same fear of being lumped in with the bad apples. So in all of this, are there really any “sides”?
It is a slap in the face for anyone to imply that I take my oath so lightly that I would fail to protect all citizens, even those who hate me, or that I would flee in the face of danger. These statements only further damage police credibility. I have vowed to serve all in my community and will continue to do so with my head held high. This is a dark time in our nation. I choose to be light.
Kristi Weil is an officer with the police department in Arlington, Texas. She wrote this article for the Dallas Morning News. She is at firstname.lastname@example.org.