I love this country with all of my heart. I consider myself patriotic, and I consider my country deeply flawed. I believe you can be passionate about this nation, while simultaneously being honest about our shortcomings. I believe as a society we are privileged, arrogant, self-centered, self-serving, and self-destructive.
I wish we would all take the time to lift our heads a few degrees, to adjust our gaze and focus off of the two inches in front of our face, and on to our surroundings, and the horizon. I wish we would collectively take a deep breath, and in that moment take the time to appreciate, value, and be grateful for what this country provides.
There are nations where a voiced objection to the ruling party will be met with swift and harsh punishments. There are nations where the only information available is that which is filtered and provided to you. There are nations where your sexuality will get you killed, where the display of skin will get you beaten, where a conflicting religious ideology will get you forced onto a street corner where your head will be cut off. I have seen the street corners with my own eyes, stained red from their constant use. I have spent years in countries that have lived so long under the rule of a stick that they have no light in their eyes. Societies so morose, that death does not spark outrage. These nations exist today. These nations define oppression; they are living, modern day examples. Once you have seen and experienced these things, you will forever be cautious with the words you choose.
We live in a nation where people stand in line for a morning coffee that costs more than premium gasoline. We pitch tents to wait in line for the newest Iphone, while in many nations, refugees are lucky to have a tent to call home. We live in a nation with unfettered access to information at your fingertips, where at birth, you are afforded more rights than most will experience on the best day of their lives. Oppression is no longer a word that has a place in the United States of America. If you were born in the United States, or any other first world country, the world that most aptly describes your situation is privileged. Does our nation have inequality? Yes, unequivocally, without question.
I do not consider myself an expert. Without question, I have more experience in the practical use of force than nearly every American alive today. I am not talking about theory. I am talking about living in a moment where you make a decision, based on current information, actions, instinct, and sometimes intuition, and someone lives, or dies. This experience comes from my time in the military, and it is not 100 percent transferrable, but it’s close. Many may think it is not applicable to Law Enforcement. Ask a Law Enforcement Professional, let them be the judge. I am open to my experiences being viewed as good or bad, patriotic, or pure evil. Judge me as you see fit, I provide them only in an attempt to enhance our perspective. I am fortunate, or cursed, depending on your beliefs to view the world we live in through these experiences.
I watched a man protesting in Charlotte, speaking about police shootings of unarmed men, and how “he was not allowed to do that in Afghanistan as a man at war.” I feel bad for that veteran, his leadership failed him, and he has been exploited. His leadership did not explain to him the rules of engagement, and in doing so hindered his ability to do his job, placing his personal safety at risk. His statement, although catchy, and supportive of a particular narrative, was completely false. The headline of an “unarmed man” sounds sensational and often leads the “news”, but it is misleading, irresponsible, and implicitly places blame and judgement on a profession that does not deserve it.
Hostile Act, Hostile Intent, Inherent Right to Self Defense. Those are the bedrock principles to any ROE (Rules of Engagement). If you observe an enemy force taking a hostile act towards you, or other service members, you are required to engage the threat. If you observe activity that is hostile in intent (maneuvering to high ground, using cover and concealment to gain a strategically advantageous position, supplying the enemy) you are required to engage. Inherent Right to Self Defense is self-explanatory. The word firearm is absent. Why? Because it is not the sole determining factor as to whether or not someone is deemed to be a threat to your life, period.
If you believe the deciding factor for Police action, specifically use of lethal force is the presence of a firearm, you do not understand the inherent risk associated with their job. Passive situations turn violent, and deadly in the blink of an eye. What can appear routine, can turn into something that is anything but, every minute of every shift. Less the ten percent, (probably less than five percent) of Police will ever be forced, yes, FORCED to used their firearm in the line of duty. In the course of a twenty-year career, they will have tens of thousands of interactions that could at any moment threaten their lives, and the lives of the citizens they are sworn to protect. They will encounter these citizens likely on the worst day, and in some of the worst moments of their lives. Imagine that burden. Would you be willing to shoulder it, and walk in their shoes? Sometimes mistakes are made. Sometimes the correct action results in the loss of life.
It is ok to show compassion for someone killed in a violent encounter with police while at the same time holding them accountable for their actions. It is ok for a police department to mourn with a family, and a community, and still stand behind the actions of its officers. Its more than ok, it is essential. Without it, we will continue to look at each other from across the street. Problems will worsen, and soon we will be yelling at each other from across the Grand Canyon. Compassion and accountability, often portrayed exclusively and as opposites. They are not. Compassion is not weakness; it is the purest display of strength possible.
Accountability means that you accept responsibility for your actions, their impact on outcome, and you stand ready to answer for them. Accountability, does not mean that you deserved what happened. No one deserves to be killed by the Police, and no Police Officer deserves the burden of killing another human being. Some actions require a response, and some responses have deadly consequences. All actions require accountability.
There are two sides to every coin. In every police shooting or use of force of any kind, regardless of the outcome, there needs to be accountability. I have said it many times before, and I will say it again for clarity, if an officer acts out of rage, bias, or abuse of power, they need to be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law, and I will volunteer to walk them to the gallows. I hear the same sentiment, often, from Police Officers who also demand accountability from their peers. Accountability is difficult. It requires something much deeper than allowing emotion to rule. It requires reflection, looking inward, and integrity. The same scrutiny applied to Police action needs to be applied to individual action, without fail.
If we choose to define a profession by its outliers, those that make choices to abuse their position either by power, influence, corruption, or pure evil, we are at a dead end. I cannot think of a single profession that passes the litmus test of purity. Military, Police, Fire, Lawyer, Doctor, Teacher, Politician, Religion, etc., etc., etc. The list does not end. This does not mean we ignore injustice, abuse, or corruption. It simply means we avoid painting everyone with the brush of the few.
To ignore our history, and its treatment of African Americans, is cowardly. To ignore our progress, and everything we have accomplished in an attempt to create equality in this nation, is an intentional choice, it is selective, and it is self-destructive.
I will never experience the inequality of growing up in this country as an African American, or any other person of color. That does not mean I do not have compassion for a community that was oppressed for generations, and ignore the truth about our nation’s transgressions. I am listening, and trying to be compassionate, but there are recurrent hurdles standing in the way. Statements are not commensurate with actions, logic is traded for emotion, progress is discarded for pride. Racism is not a white problem, bias is not a white problem, they are human problems. I am doing everything in my power to prevent inequality. I do not tolerate it in my presence, and I am raising children who think in terms of respect, responsibility, and accountability. Not color, not sex, or any other qualifier. Change in this country is generational, and will not happen overnight. I recognize internal bias in myself, and confront it. It exists in all of us. If you deny that, I will not listen to a single word you have to say.
I am witnessing people act from a place of anger and frustration, focusing only on the negative, only on the narrative, fueling hatred and destroying the fabric of this country. These actions, which are often motivated and touted as justified through rage, hate, revenge, and fear do not remove the restraints of oppression, they are its creator.
The world is watching us; is this really who we want to be?
Perspective, Accountability, Compassion
One thought on “Perspective, Accountability, Compassion”
Written in 2016, reading now in 2020. Relevant more than ever….
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