Ferguson, Mo.: “Hands up, don’t shoot” is a false premise. In the case of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, we now know it just didn’t happen that way. It’s a lie to suggest otherwise.
But that lie still has life and continues to be used as a symbol for grievance.
A group of CNN “news” folks recreated a “hands-up-don’t-shoot” moment, putting their hands up in a surrender position in unison on air during what was supposed to be an unbiased news segment.
Several members of the St. Louis Rams football team made the gesture on national T.V.
Last December several lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives made the gesture in protest and to demonstrate their opposition to both the shooting and police brutality in general.
Demonstrators around the country use the symbol constantly.
The problem with using this “symbol” is that it obstructs progress by eliminating any chance for honest two-way conversations. What gets lost is the real issue everybody says they want to fix: Poor relationships between police and African-Americans in some cities in this country.
A year later have we made any progress?
I don’t think so. I believe the country is even more divided than ever, much to the delight of many by the way.
Police officers, and I speak to thousands of them, are in complete defense mode: angry, hurt, confused, fed up at being accused of things they absolutely don’t do.
Let me repeat that: They are defensive about something they absolutely don’t do!
Don’t get me wrong, there are some systemic problems in agencies that cause problems and mistrust between the police and African-Americans in some cities. That needs to be addressed without question.
And the police, collectively, must take some measure of responsibility for the current state of affairs.
But—and here comes the big BUT—there’s not an epidemic of police violence against any segment of the population of this country. In fact the opposite is true and the proof is easy to find.
A Way Forward?
What we are seeing are episodes of mostly mistakes, some incredibly bad and tragic mistakes, which involve police and people of color. And those need to be addressed.
But again, when you look at the fact that police officers have more than 100 million face-to-face interactions with people every year, make over 35,000 arrests per day, and deal with God-knows-how-many out of control drunks, mentally disturbed and emotionally charged people daily, it proves that the vast majority of police officers bend over backwards not to use unnecessary force.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have individual nincompoops in our ranks. We do. But, again most of these incidents can be directly linked to poor hiring practices, a lack of realistic training, and an inability to deal with stress.
But, back to Ferguson and the one-way conversation taking place in America today.
To fix the problems that do exist it’s necessary to address facts and not fiction. Those who won’t listen—and I mean on both sides—need to be removed from the conversation that is yet to be started.
There are at least two completely different paradigms concerning this issue and the response of some in the communities:
- Activists see the police as a collective group of violent thugs and lying racists.
- The police see arsonists, thieves and violent thugs.
- Activists hear silence and lies being told by the police designed to hide biased practices.
- The police hear screams, yelling and lies being told in order to promote biased agendas by the activists.
- Activists believe the police are a group with evil intent and malevolent motivations in their hearts.
- The police see the activists as a group of people who refuse to take responsibility, play the race card and believe they are perpetual victims.
Do we really want the same thing? Do we want to come together as a society? Really?
Well, if we do, it ain’t gonna work because we are missing the most essential ingredient of a healthy relationship: Trust.
We don’t even have a little bit of it. So we are stalled. Unless of course we make conscious choices and find true leaders who look out for the nation not themselves.
On the Media/Activist/Political Side
First find your moral and ethical center before opening your mouth, pointing fingers and screaming to get attention. Deal with reality: there’s a contrary perspective to this issue.
For you leaders: be the calming voice and forget your personal agendas. Encouraging violence and destruction only serves to create a problem that can’t be solved. It hurts the communities you claim to wish to help.
Demanding general changes at the top of your lungs, accusing all cops of being violent, racist, evil and unethical only solidifies the law enforcement side. While you may get satisfying rhetoric from chiefs and mayors who wish to appease your angry ears, know that the cops are closing ranks and getting angrier. No one can tolerate being accused of things they don’t do—especially when those accusations reach into the soul of those you vilify.
Finally, lumping 700,000 police officers together as though they are a collective psyche only makes matters worse. Which should be commonsense …
Law Enforcement Side
First find your moral and ethical center before opening your mouth, pointing fingers and screaming. Deal with reality, and though this will be really hard for most of you to accept, there is a total other side to this issue. We as a profession have made mistakes and have turned a blind eye to certain aspects of our cultures. Writing racist comments on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites is stupid and wrong. It may feel good at the moment but ultimately it widens the gap and the public we’re paid to serve, and it gives credence to the accusations by the screamers. There’s no place for racists in this profession.
For you in leadership positions: be the calming voice. Forget your personal agendas. Don’t make holding on to your position more important than the mission of your organization, which includes developing a relationship with the community. And please understand this: You can’t help build relationships with the community if you don’t have a relationship with your own people.
Create the culture necessary to affect change. Don’t let it just evolve. Don’t be a victim of it. Assess it, determine the one you want, create it and then lead it!
Finally, adjust your perspective on two things: Training and involved leadership. Train the right way and in areas that will help officers be better at their jobs. Don’t just have “check-the-box” courses that are only designed to prove to someone you did in fact train. And leaders, especially first line supervisors, need to be on the street, they need to be involved and able to still do the job.
Maybe then we can start making some progress. But first let’s focus, on all sides, on giving space and time for trust to develop. In the final assessment, we’re all in this together.