The Blues All Round: How We Heal

 

“I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me.  In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.  I have experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core.

When people you know begin to question your integrity, you realize they don’t really know you at all… These are trying times.  Please don’t let hate infect your heart.”

-Montrell Jackson, Baton Rouge Police Officer killed in the line of duty 7.17.2016

“We don’t call for no bloodshed.  That’s how this all this started.  We don’t want no more bloodshed… This is our house. You can’t come in our house, killing us.  That’s what you doing.  This is our house. You can’t come in our house, killing us.  That’s what you doing.

At the end of the day, these people call these families. They tell them their daddies and mommas not coming home no more.  I know how they feel, because I got the same phone call.  No justice, no justice no peace. That’s what we are calling for.

Stop this killing! Stop this killing! Stop this killing!”

-Alton Sterling’s aunt, following the killing of 3 Baton Rouge police officers

“We, as a nation, have to be loud and clear that nothing justifies violence against law enforcement.  Attacks on police are an attack on all of us and the rule of law that makes society possible.”

-President Barack Obama

My Dear Readers,

On 7.16.16, I celebrated my 63rd birthday in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, while attending the first annual Aboriginal Focusing-Oriented Therapy Conference.  As I spent two days among my white, black, brown Canadian and First Nation brothers and sisters, I felt thankful for the well wishes of family and friends around the world and for the blessings I had before me.

I was alive.  I was not beaten by the police and neither was I in jail.  And most important, my son was also alive and well.  With all of the tension occurring at home in the States, my birthday in Canada passed quietly and most importantly, with good memories.

I returned home that same evening. I take training at the Justice Institute in British Columbia pretty often, so I have made this trip numerous times.  However, being a black   man traveling alone, I have had my share of tense moments at the US border with law enforcement officials.  This time, however, it went well.  I remember thanking the officer for her service and asking that she be careful.  We both smiled and nodded, and I went on my way.

I had a peaceful, relaxing drive back to Seattle, enjoying the blue sky and jazz music all the way home…  and then the very next day all hell broke out. 

Blue Lives Matter!!

Three police officers are shot and killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Another three are wounded, one critically fighting for his life.

Is there open warfare by African-Americans on the police?  Consider the following:

  • Five Dallas police officers (2016) killed by a black man while escorting a peaceful demonstration. (The assailant is killed by police)
  • Two New York City police officers (2014) killed by a black man in while they sat in their patrol vehicle (the assailant committed suicide)
  • Four Lakewood police officers killed (2009) by a black man while eating a meal during their break. (The assailant is killed by police)
  • A police officer in Seattle WA (2009) is shot and killed and his partner wounded while sitting in their patrol vehicle. (The assailant is convicted, serving life in prison)

 

Black Lives Matter!!

I always feel tense when I interact with the police. I feel my fear of them, and I feel their fear of me.  I feel it when I am in my own community or visiting other communities where there is no one else around with dark skin like mine.  Maybe it’s hyper-awareness, but when I see the police in my vicinity, I reflect on the black males I know of who have died after interactions with police officers, such as Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, and the most recent ones, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

A common theme in these police killings of black males is the police officer feared for his safety, even when the person is unarmed and subdued, so I realize that pretty much anything I do may cause an officer to fear for his safety—enough to cause him to shoot me.

Recently, I pulled into a gas station to fill up, and I was just behind a police car as I pulled in. I found myself having the same fear that I would have when a police vehicle pulled up behind me, regardless of whether the lights were on, and the pit in my stomach, the racing thoughts and sense of powerlessness all returned.

As I pulled into the gas station, I wondered what was going on in that police officer’s mind.  Did he now see me in the same way that I saw him? Or was there no difference for him at all—was I always something or someone to be feared, so this was just more of the same?

As I parked my vehicle, I saw him turn around and zoom past me, checking me out.  It was clear he had not turned into the station for gas; rather he had been checking me out to see if I was following him.

I shared the experience with several other black men I know.  The responses I received were that of laughter and comments such as “good, now the cop knows how we feel when gets behind one of us.”  One of the men asked me, “did you feel the power?’

Did I feel the power?  No, I didn’t.  People, this is not a good thing. What I felt was the police officer’s fear.   He feared me and I had done nothing to him.   My goal was simply to get gas, not kill or injure a police officer.

The problem between the law enforcement and the African-American community is not fear itself but rather, our decision to live in fear of each other.

How do we rid ourselves of fear?

We do not rid ourselves of fear.  Fear is merely an emotion.  Instead, we must seek to heal the traumatic wounds.  We can do this by embracing our fear.  Fear is a necessary emotion that must be balanced with other emotions.  When unchecked or unbalanced, we are left to exist in our fear.

How do we heal the wound between the community and the police?

We must want to respect those who serve and protect the community, upholding law and order and in return, those who uphold law and order must want to respect the members of the community they are sworn to serve and protect. 

What steps can be taken?

Police officers must want to get out of their patrol vehicles and be more involved within the communities they serve.  Members of the communities must want to extend themselves to police officers.  Trust is built and strengthens in relationships and communications.

The POST model below can be used by both police and communities of color to build and reinforce these incredibly important relationships:

P (Partnership)

O (Open communications)

S (Strategies for Success)

T (Teamwork Approach)

Concluding Words

“These are trying times.  Please don’t let hate infect your heart.”

-Montrell Jackson, Baton Rouge Police Officer killed in the line of duty 7.17.2016

“We need to temper our words and open our hearts.”

-President Barack Obama

The current political climate in this country is not helping to guide us out of these dark and turbulent waters. However, I take warmth and solace in the calming wisdom and words from President Obama:

“It remains up to us that our best selves are reflective across America, not our worse.  We have had our divisions and they are not new.

A bullet need only happen once but for peace to work we need to be reminded of its existence again and again and again.”

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues.

 

 

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