In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 millions of Americans were in awe of the bravery of men and women of law enforcement, fire departments and other first responders who went running into the burning and battered World Trade Center towers.
While thousands were running away in fear and terror, hundreds of others were running towards danger. And, tragically, for many of these American Heroes and Heroines, to their death.
I remember those desperate hours.
I remember the images of those brave souls running to a building collapsing around them.
I cannot imagine the fear that must have been in their hearts. The terror they felt inside of them.
And, still they ran. To danger. To death.
The tragic shooting death of Justine Damond by a Minneapolis Police Officer barely a year after the tragic shooting death of Philando Castile by a St. Anthony Police Officer puts our law enforcement community in a different kind of spotlight.
It is bright, harsh and judgmental.
The family of Justine Damond, like the family of Philando Castile, have every reason to wonder why the one they love is dead and couldn’t there have been a different outcome. A better outcome.
I do not believe the young Minneapolis Police Officer who shot and killed Justine Damond did so with malice or premeditation.
I don’t believe he did so any more than I believe the young St. Anthony Police Officer who shot and killed Philando Castile did so with malice or premeditation.
Whether I am right or wrong doesn’t matter.
What matters is two young lives are gone.
Two other young lives are destroyed forever.
And, our community grapples with what can and must be done to address that which we cannot grasp or understand.
I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. I wish I could fix it.
But, what is it that needs to be fixed?
Is it how we train our police? Is it how we treat one another? Is it the expectations we have of one another and the communities in which we live?
This much I know, however, to be true.
The men and women of law enforcement are not some distant faction living on a different planet.
They are our neighbors. They are our friends and our family.
They live next door to us. They have their own families. Children of their own. Hopes, dreams and aspirations for their children.
I refuse to believe that the clear majority of men and women who put on a police uniform in this country do so with the intent of causing harm to another human being.
I also refuse to believe that there are not police officers who are bad cops. And, who are bad people.
Truth be told there are bad teachers, politicians, priests, reporters – you name it. In every profession in every walk of life there are bad people.
We need to call out those bad people who don’t just give their profession a bad name but do bad things to other people and to our community.
What we can’t do, and what I believe is beginning to happen, is to paint law enforcement with some broad brush that gives truth to a lie that they are a threat to the people they are sworn to protect and serve.
Indicting law enforcement as an enemy of the people, and every officer who serves within law enforcement serves no useful purpose.
Any more than suggesting one bad teacher means the entire profession is corrupt or that a single bad news reporter is proof of a feckless news industry.
In our haste to find answers and solutions we must avoid the idea that the men and women of law enforcement are an inherent danger and threat to our communities.
For, if we do, who will be the men and women of law enforcement of the future?
Do we truly believe that society is best served by turning our anger, confusion and sorrow against police officers?
What will this accomplish? Who will it benefit? What will it solve?
Something, certainly, must be done.
What, of course, must be done is the question that must be answered?
Finding those answers in the midst of crisis is not a recipe for success.
A crisis, however, that continues on and on and one again means that we aren’t finding the answers when there isn’t a crisis.
There are processes, and systems, and rules and laws that must be changed to give confidence to every American that they are going to be treated fairly and equitably under the law.
Changing those laws are imperative. They should be changed sooner rather than later.
Something else must change, too.
The men and women of law enforcement need to know that we don’t believe they are the enemy. That they aren’t the bad guys.
The people in public office, or want to hold public office, who praise cops when times are good, but blame them when times are bad, need to have the guts and the courage to have their backs when the proverbial shit hits the fan.
But, so do all of us. Those who call upon cops to protect us, our families and our neighborhoods. If the politicians lack the spine then it is up to all of us to help them grow one.
All cops are not good.
Law enforcement is not perfect.
There are bad cops. There are cops that do bad things.
On purpose and on accident.
But, we need those who, despite the fear and terror in their hearts, to run to the danger while everyone else is running away.
We always have. We always will.