I wept as I dropped my son off for school that day. The tears had been somewhat regular since I had embraced my husband, warm, stiff from his Kevlar vest as he walked out the door early that morning. I’d been hugging this man in uniform for a couple of years now. He wasn’t as green on the job as he had once been. The difference today, the reason tears were dripping from my cheeks, was that he was headed into a situation that was making headlines. Today he was being sent to Baltimore to help patrol the streets. The peaceful protests turned riots because of the death of Freddie Gray were requiring men and women in uniform from nearby to be dispatched to “keep the peace”. A scary time for LEO (Law Enforcement Officer) families. Being an LEO wife was still something I wasn’t comfortable with. The knowledge that your spouse may be entering a dangerous situation at any moment is unsettling. If you allow it the fear can take over easily. However, today while fear for his safety was on my mind, my tears held more than that.
At school I encountered a police officer I knew. He saw my red brimmed eyes and in his effort to “calm” me, he went on a rant. A rant that took on the us vs. them verbiage I was used to, expected even. As a part of the “blue family” it was also expected that I held to that ideology, it’s what made us an us. Not many words left my mouth, and when my son was relinquished to his classroom I quickly made my exit, half running to my car as the tears flowed again. What that man had no idea of, was that his rant was exactly WHY I was an emotional mess. I drove for a long time, thankful that my mom had come to help with the kids. Eventually I found my way to the bay and sat staring at the swirling current of water trying to make sense of my tumultuous thoughts.
I reflected on the things I knew. I had never been comfortable with the lack of humility in policing as a whole. I knew firsthand the difficulties, stresses and fear the job produced. But I couldn’t accept how all of that caused the mentality of “us vs. them”. I felt at odds for enjoying the seeming power I had for being an LEO family, the feeling that we deserved respect. I was struggling to reconcile my Mennonite upbringing with my current life. My dislike of violence, guns, and power.. I was now living a life where all of these things were a daily staple. The talk of violence, the stories of violence, the feeling of power and demand for respect.. a gun was living in my house. I was feeling a disconnect from the reality of my current life and what my very being is naturally led to- peace, justice, grace, mercy. But even as those things were high in my mind, I also was very aware of the compassion most of those in law enforcement embody. When a fatality happens. The compassion towards the affected. Being the person to tell a loved one of a death. Having to internalize what they just witnessed so they can be the one that is strong. I saw the heroic actions of officers that put their lives on the line to save someone else. I am not one that has just heard these stories. I KNOW these stories, intimately. I know the decisions that they have to make in the heat of the moment. I know the stress that this places on our law enforcement. And I deeply respect this and them.
However, now I was aware of something else. Something I’d been ignorant to until my husband became a part of the policing world. I was waking to the plight of our brothers and sisters of color. I was waking to the very real problem of excessive use of force, police brutality. And I was beginning to realize that the reason I was struggling so much to fit into this life of law enforcement was that I COULDN’T reconcile my beliefs, my knowledge of these things with the lack of humility and the power hungry system that is policing in this country. I couldn’t reconcile the sense that if the institution of policing in this country is questioned, that it is unpatriotic. That if “civilians” ask questions, protest and want change that we, the civilians, are the problem. Here I was knowing and believing these things- that there needs to be complete reform of the institution. All the while my husband was headed to a city where relations between police and its citizens were imploding- explosively.
The hopelessness of it all. The lack of humility in police, the lack of desire to understand the underlying causes- the historic causes of this current friction. The lack of accountability for actions that cause death by the institution. This is why I was sitting by water, weeping. This is why my whole being recoiled as that police officer went on his rant. The tired rant that our country is all too familiar with.
We are no longer an LEO family. But the tension is still real. I still think through all of this on a daily basis. I yearn for a law enforcement institution that looks hard at itself. That realizes its capacity to promote peace and garner respect through respecting the voices of the people they have sworn to protect and serve. Police have the power. With power comes a responsibility for humility and a continued work to knowing and understanding those they serve.
Peace won’t be obtained if the people in power don’t choose to look inside themselves and don’t work to understand the historical undertones of this divide. Silence isn’t peace. Ignorance isn’t peace. Peace is something we work towards, peace is brought about by leaning into the pain, into the disconnect. Peace comes through understanding and relating, not taking sides and putting up walls. I implore those in the law enforcement family that I know and respect to work towards this peace, to own what they are being told by people of color, by those without power. Showing humility is not weakness, it’s the very ideal of strength.