I wasn’t planning on saying anything publically about President Trump’s recent (very recent) first address to Congress as America’s 45th President. Partially because it is very fresh. Partially because I’ve been trying not to allow the Trumpian elements to rain on my parade, patio, or my person. However, one of the many things that really struck me, and there were many, was his brief statement of support for law enforcement. A major reason why it unsettled me was because of its skewed and, from my perspective, flawed understanding of the goal of law enforcement.
To make things perfectly clear: I fully support the people who risk their lives and their safety for the lives of other people, particularly communities, cities, and nations. From a young age, I’ve internalized and learned to “support the soldiers, criticize the war” and I firmly believe that it is possible to have sympathy for innocent people that are thrown into the crossfire when wars, arrests, and assaults occur, and to have equivalent and relative sympathy for those whose occupation, duty, or mission is to manage and handle wars, arrests, and assaults. I marched in the streets of Philadelphia multiple times, despite the fact that I have family members and childhood friends that are or are related to members of law enforcement. I sympathize with the good and the honest, civilians, officers, soldiers, and people. However, I believe that true justice must be served. Human error may abound because we are flawed, but it must not give people a pass to serve no penalty for deviating from protocol.
In his address tonight, the President stated that “we must work with law enforcement”, I don’t agree with that statement as said. While we do and we must respect and honor those who risk their lives and their safety for us, it is not our responsibility to work with them. It is instead their responsibility to work with us. Police badges across the nation say variations of “to protect and to serve”. As a public servant, police officers must be held to a standard of working with the public to better protect and to better serve them. If people are protesting and petitioning against those who have been hired and sworn to protect us, it is clear that they do not feel heard or listened to. They do not feel worked with.
In my current job I am a teacher. A public servant. As frustrating as it may be at times, it is my job to serve the greater interests of my students. There are protocols and policies that exist and I am required to follow them. However, there are also rules, expectations, and policies that can be changed, created, and enforced based on the greater needs and the true desires of my student population. To exist effectively, the servant must first agree to work with the one who they serve.
As the person hear to protect and to serve, I will listen to what you say, and I will observe, and I will watch to discuss and clarify the greater needs of the people and the communities whom I serve. This isn’t easy work. It takes time and relationship building. It is stressful and it is demanding.
To constantly request people to work with an organization, person, or group, that has consistently shown itself to be accidentally or intentionally oblivious to its true needs is abuse. When poor people and people of color push back against the systems that are failing them, by not listening, by prioritizing larger local press and concerns of wealthier residents and communities over their own, they are not working against these systems. They are pushing and protesting and petitioning so that these systems accurately protect and serve all of the people whom these systems serve. To ask these people, and not these departments, and unions, and individual officers, to work with law enforcement is wildly irresponsible.
There can be a coming together of community and law enforcement. But it starts when the protector, the person who can legally wield arms in a number of manners, and the servant, who can bow to the one they serve and slit their throat in their sleep, makes the full effort to work with the people whom they are sworn to serve and to protect. When it is clear beyond many a doubt that it is in the interest of the whole community, not the white, not the rich, not the upwardly mobile but the whole community, that these organizations exist, then the people who you are asking (or telling with much urgency) to work with law enforcement will do so. Then they will be right. You will be right. Our communities can be right.
However, to ask this of them now, and any moment in time before that symbiotic relationship is forged in a community, is irresponsible and frankly wrong. I want no police officers dead. 99.9% of protestors want the same. If you listen to the infamous song “Fuck the Police”, it lays out exactly why they had problems. It wasn’t because they were being fairly detained. And it surely wasn’t because they were being adequately protected and served. In that song, and in the moment that we live in now, the truth is evident. For many, law enforcement is not protecting and serving the communities that they are sworn to. Until they come with the full and honest intention of doing so, we will not work full heartedly with them. They must make the first effort. Then we will reciprocate.
Sorry for the political fire. It was the most present ember in my mind while watching the aforementioned speech.
I’ll be back Sunday with a legitimate soliloquy.