I began writing this while watching thousands gather for the interfaith memorial service held for the five Dallas police officers who were ambushed and gunned down by a lost and damaged army veteran. The shooter, Micah Johnson, said that he “…specifically set out to kill as many white officers as he could,” following the deaths of two black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota under questionable circumstances. Multiple investigations have begun on both shootings.
Watching the thousands of police officers attending the service in Dallas, I was moved by what I saw. As the camera panned the audience, there were black officers and white officers, Latino officers, men and women; they likely represented a variety faiths, and more than likely, there were gay officers in attendance, as well. All were unified by their blue uniforms and a devotion to duty in exceptionally challenging times.
Here’s what I could not see.
I could not see who was a Republican or a Democrat. I could not see which officer was a conservative or liberal. I only saw thousands of men and women dedicated to upholding the rule of law and supporting their equals who did the same and gave their lives to do so.
What we witnessed last week has not only been unimaginably tragic for the families who faced personal loss, but remains a sad refresher of the issues that remain unresolved for the rest of us. For that reason, I deferred commenting. I wanted time to reflect on a larger perspective.
To that end, I reached out to former federal law enforcement officer and friend, Felix Nater. Felix has more than 30 years of criminal, security and program management expertise. He has spent the last 14 years helping organizations implement and manage workplace security with a specialty in workplace violence prevention. I asked Felix for his perspective about last week.
“As a former federal law enforcement officer,” Felix writes, “I was involved in many arrests during my career. The arrests ranged from theft of letters to assaults, armed robbery of letter carriers and postal stations, and hijackings. I’ve also taken part in many criminal investigation task forces. Being involved in highly charged situations is not unusual for me. What is unusual is the tension that exists between local police and the African-American community today.
“First and foremost, I think the shootings and killings of police officers in Dallas, was abhorrent and completely inexcusable. If an individual has a grievance against policing, their vengeance should not be exacted on individual police officers but through civil discourse.
“As to the unintentional police shootings of the two African-Americans last week, it is tragic and preventable through proper training. Policing, under those circumstances, places police officers in difficult situations with difficult choices so, I am not going to second guess their reasoning for believing their safety was at risk.
“Do police officers go to bed the night before plotting and planning to kill citizens?” Nater asks. “NO.”
“Can such shootings be avoided? I believe so. However, response to risk mitigation is complex. Training can help police officers respond when confronted with certain types of threats and physical confrontations. Training is essential in increasing confidence, and increases the chances of making better decisions in an emotionally charged situation. Officers who find themselves in these high risk, high tension arrests, can be trained to take immediate protective measures that can reduce the risk to themselves and the arrestee.
“Because I know police officers do not wake up feeling murderous vengeance towards the African-American community, I can’t believe shootings during an arrest are intentional as much as I feel they are driven by fear and circumstances.
“The chain of command can increase better police understanding by introducing the value of diversity training in policing. Training should NOT be delivered to blame police officers, but to create a mutually supportive training environment where genuine discourse takes place and participants feel valued and respected. So, while I know properly delivered diversity training can help bridge the communication gap, we must use the opportunity to educate and learn from each other. The community must remove the emotion and seize the opportunity to be collaborative and supportive in helping local police understand their issues and grievances.
“Police,” Nater concludes, “must take the time to help the community understand what happens when they respond to highly stressful arrest situations. Lack of communication is the gap that, unintentionally, has been creating a wider chasm between policing and the African-American community.”
In a broader context, while prejudice will always exist in some form with some people, it will always be a vastly minority opinion. What is truly damaging to our spirit as a country is an unremitting cynicism that continues to linger over us like a virus. It’s the throbbing suspicion that says: the system is rigged, we’re too politically correct, you’re wrong and I’m right.
We are not going to find solutions unless we listen more than we talk; talk kindly rather than shout; exercise reason instead of reckless rhetoric that caters to fear and prejudice; and focus more on unity than division.
The reality is we are bigger than any despicable act by any wrong-headed individual, and when such events happen, we need contain our immediate need to finger-pointing and blame, and instead, work to develop and promote the actions necessary to bring about greater strength through unanimity just as thousands of police officers demonstrated at the Dallas memorial service.
Then we need to re-commit to each other the words that the founders signed at the end of our Declaration:
… we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
The only way we are ever going to realize the full potential of all of us is when each of us accepts this essential truth: we are all in this together.