My dad was a police officer for 18 years.
Every night he trudged home after having seen the worst humanity has to offer and tried to acclimate himself to a household of four hyperactive children.
His job was more than just to “Serve and Protect”—it often involved walking into chaos and creating order in a tornado of violence, emotion and lies.
I don’t know how good he was at his job, but I do know that it was something he took very seriously and that the immense weight of his lifestyle took an incredible toll on his mind and body.
This personal experience with a cop is why many of the recent headlines have been of particular interest to me. From the Michael Brown fiasco in Ferguson to the tragic death of Eric Garner, the police force is being interrogated in a public and heated manner.
Within this very valid line of questioning, it’s important to consider one thing:
Cops are humans.
There are most certainly good police officers out there who are doing their absolute best to be the civil servant they signed up to be. Equally so, there are also more than a few cops out there who are power-hungry bullies and abuse their substantial power and need to be held accountable for this act of treason against society.
They cannot all be painted with a wide stroke of “good” or “bad.” In every field, there are people good at their jobs, and plenty of others who are so awful at their jobs it makes your head hurt.
Police officers are the same way—only, being civil servants, they must be held to a much higher standard than your average engineer or waitress.
Is it possible to actively appreciate the good cops for the sacrifice they and their families make on a daily basis, while still holding the bad cops to the highest of standards in conduct?
I believe there is, and ironically the solution requires one of the very words echoing from Ferguson, Mo to Rockefeller Center.
That word is profiling.
We cannot profile all cops in one light or another. They are independent human beings that make thousands of decisions on a daily basis. The moment we start the doughnut-eating stereotypes, we’re guilty of the same sin they’re currently being crucified for—assuming guilt before weighing the evidence.
Imagine the difficulty of entering a situation where at least one party is perpetually guilty, yet all are proclaiming their innocence. This is the life and calling of our officers of the law. I have a hard enough time deciphering who is guilty in a squabble between two toddlers, let alone a mass of angry and scared citizens.
The job description is impossible, but all officers knew what they were signing up to do. We ask them to do the dirty work a civilized society needs done. Those that go too far must be held accountable. We as a people must demand this happens.
How we do that is as important as what the message is. When we purposefully make it difficult for the cops out there who are making the best of a lousy situation and genuinely want to serve and protect us, our comfortable civilized order is in serious jeopardy.
In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.
~ Dr. Martin Luther King
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Andy Vaughn
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Michigan Municipal League/Flickr