When I was fresh out of college and an intern in Washington, D.C., I shared an apartment in a new, upscale complex smack in the middle of a Black neighborhood about a mile from the Capitol.
During one of my first walks to work, a group of Black teens was gathered on a street corner. I debated whether to cross the busy street midblock to avoid them, to skirt around the group’s edge, or simply to plow my way through.
Before they noticed me though, a police car pulled to the curb and a cop leaned out. “Hey, Chuck, haven’t seen ya for a while. Where ya been keeping yourself?”
The teens gathered around the car, and I passed unnoticed.
To me, that is the epitome of good neighborhood policing.
And here in the Treasure Valley we take it for granted a lot.
A school resource officer chats with kids on a playground.
An officer checks up on a woman who’s attempted suicide.
A teen with sagging black pants and a dangling belt excitedly anticipates a coming boxing match in Spokane.
An Hispanic grandmother reports abuse, and an Hispanic cop shows up to talk to the family.
And sheriff deputies celebrate their eighth year wearing cameras while the Illinois legislature debates whether to ban recording of police actions.
Okay, an aging white lady doesn’t see everything, but I feel I can say that our police have good training and pro-active leadership.
Perhaps dangers elsewhere excuse poor behavior from cops, but I don’t think so.
I once told a seventh grade class that there was a good reason that one teacher control 25 of them. I watched the kids bristle and then added, “Every one of you knows it is for your own good.” They nodded, reluctantly, but they knew. Someone had to be in charge, and it might as well be the oldster with training and experience.
That is as true for policing as teaching. I’m not happy that an elementary school in Meridian has a lower speed limit than the one I pass daily. And I’m certainly not happy that speeding fines are outrageously high.
I know, however, that I benefit from having traffic regulations enforced. So I respect the enforcer.
When people don’t see that police actions benefit themselves and their neighborhood, things are different.
You can call Michael Brown a thug and list six things he did wrong, but a good cop would not have let matters escalate to killing. And I can’t imagine a policeman here leaving a body to lie in the street for four hours. It’s as though Officer Wilson wanted to advertise what happens to people who cross him.
Michael Brown was walking in the street. Eric Garner had a history of selling loose cigarettes. Akai Gurley was walking downstairs with his girlfriend. John Crawford was carrying an air gun in a Walmart. Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun in the park.
They shouldn’t have been killed, particularly 12-year-old Tamir. That spindly kid could have been grabbed, tackled, maced, tasered, etc. He should not have died.
It’s not just that police are killing people. Or even that police are killing Blacks. It’s the fact that community members are losing their lives over minor actions, several not even crimes. People cease to see the police as protecting them and begin worrying who the next victim will be.
So, when you see athletes wearing protest t-shirts or demonstrators marching in the streets, don’t think that they are attacking law enforcement. They are demonstrating for policing like you and I take for granted.