By David T. London
On a recent trip to Atlanta, I got to talk to an on duty member of the Atlanta Police Department. He was performing his duties in the efficient manner I’ve come to expect from police during my many decades of life. I said to him, “You look like an upstanding, caring, and professional police officer. How do you feel about the national discussion about policing, hearing phrases like ‘Defund the Police’, and the protests in Atlanta and elsewhere.”
He said, “I know what kind of man I am, so I know those comments do not apply to me.” He went on to say that during the most intense times of the protests in Atlanta, morale in his police department was low because they had to work extended hours, standing in front of protesters, as many hurled insults at them. It was a difficult time. But he also said he understood why people were protesting and that the protests were not necessarily directed at him.
After we finished our conversation, two thoughts came to my mind. First, I said to myself that it’s more important than ever to tell our law enforcement personnel that we appreciate their service. As a retired Army soldier myself, I certainly appreciated those words when I went to and from Iraq and Afghanistan and stood ready for any other calls to action that could come. When your job involves putting your life on the line to save others, it’s more than just a paycheck. It is a calling. Some do it better than others, but all take an oath to do their best for their community and country. That is worth recognition.
The second thought that came to mind is that as a society and as members of a service profession, we must be able to accept criticism of the work we do without considering it an attack on our institution. Many people thanked me for my wartime service, but then questioned whether we were truly justified to be in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others commended the bravery of the troops, but voiced concern about the huge death toll of Iraqi and Afghan civilians and American lives. My fellow soldiers and I were able to receive the sincere appreciation of a grateful nation for our wartime service and respect for those that never came back from those wars, while also accepting that not all Americans agreed with how things proceeded in those conflicts. In the same way, our law enforcement community should be able to hear the sincere thanks from residents in every community while at the same time receiving the feedback that some things need to change.
I have an Army classmate who was recently featured on several national news programs for leading an analysis into our Army’s performance in Operation Iraqi Freedom. That Army-initiated look into how we can do things better is evidence of a habit of frank self reflection that enables the US Army to be both highly lethal and highly selective in the use of force. The Army embraces criticism and learns from it.
•In policing, when we hear the words “defund the police,” we should recognize that it doesn’t mean get rid of police or that all police are bad. It means that in those particular cities where the defunding decision is made, citizens and leaders want to reallocate resources so that residents receive programs that can prevent them from needing police intervention while improving relationships between police and the communities they serve.
•When we hear the phrase “unreasonable use of lethal force by police against Black people in police encounters,” we should realize that it speaks to those specific cases where the statement is made. If the shoe fits, wear it. And then take steps to address the problem instead of taking it as an assault on all police.
•And when folks point out that Black people in America, Georgia, and the Coastal Empire are pulled over in traffic stops at a disproportionate rate to their population, we should simply ask ourselves and our law enforcement leadership why the trends are as they are and what can be done to address the problem. Again, it is not an attack on the profession of policing.
So as I reflect on my conversation with one of Atlanta’s most dedicated public servants--an Atlanta police officer, I ask those reading this article to do two things. And you can probably guess what they are. First, make a concerted effort to thank our local law enforcement personnel for the fantastic work they do to keep us and our families safe. And second, as we love our law enforcement community, let’s leave enough room in our hearts and our minds to challenge them to be even better than they are today by receiving, acting upon, and fixing the sincere and perfectly valid concerns about policing that are in the national and local conversations of today.
Have a great week, and please take time to thank those that work in law enforcement.
David T. London is a Richmond Hill husband, father, retired Army officer and a leader in many church and community organizations. He is an original member of The Falcon Group--a grassroots organization that seeks to give voice to underrepresented people in our community.