What I’m getting at is that our experiences are what we draw upon that form our beliefs and shape our view of the world. The entire wording of most deadly force laws is “would a reasonable person have believed that there was a threat of immanent use of deadly force against them?” That is the measuring stick. “What did you believe and how did you feel?” The problem is, what training do the police get about their beliefs and feelings? The answer is: none. We need to grow and develop these “soft skills” of police work and not just assume that our beliefs and feelings are where they should be especially in tense situations that require critical thinking but instead decisions are being made from bounded rationality and influenced by implicit bias.
Earlier I talked about growing up in Massachusetts. I shared this because this was my exposure to race, racism, the African American community, and the fact is my knowledge was incomplete. This is the experience upon which my beliefs were formed, guided my actions and garnered my particular results as a police officer. My beliefs were inaccurate because my experience was not fully informed. I would argue this is true of every one of us, not just police officers. I have a friend named Neil, who runs the
in Bradenton, Florida. There they teach character to young men of color. They teach the amazing and untold story of African American contributions and accomplishments in society. They have guest speakers who look just like them, that are doctors, lawyers, physicists, engineers, and the list goes on. These role models have existed for hundreds of years, for countless generations, and yet these stories have gone untold.
We all have bias because the narrative of American history is inaccurate and incomplete, which has led to our lack of cultural exposure and knowledge. There have been systems in place to keep us separate, such as Red Lining. Our history books neglect to tell the full story of African American history, and the stories on the news are made to sell and they become the dominant stories. Neil is making sure his boys hear the counter story, the stories of achievement and success. All of us need to hear these stories.
What I have found is there are solutions in the counter-story. That learning about race and racism in America, and how it has informed our thoughts and opinions about one another, is a way to better understand the dynamics surrounding diverse communities. Learning these stories is also about hearing and recording a history that has been denied to so many. A history that informs us of why we are where we are today. A history that can begin the truth and reconciliation process.
I know our brother and sister officers are hurting because we work in systems where it is “not okay” to not be okay. There is a Finnish term for courage: sisu
. However, it is not the same as “courage” in English. It is a quiet courage, no bravado; the kind of courage it takes to put one foot in front of the other rather, than to conquer the whole mountain. It’s about doing things despite the discomfort they bring because it’s the right thing to do. It’s about the vulnerability to ask for help when you need it. It’s about having courageous conversations, like the one we are being called to have right now.
African Americans have endured centuries of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws and civil rights violence, George Floyd is not an isolated incident. The loss of his life, of Breonna Taylor’s life, and Ahmaud Arbery is layer upon layer of violence that the African American community has experienced for generations over centuries and no statistics can rationalize that. This intergenerational trauma is literally written upon the DNA of African Americans.
The freedoms promised by this nation are held by some and denied to others. If we truly want to make a difference then those who enjoy their freedoms hold a responsibility to do the work of finding justice for all. Where there is injustice take a stand, but that is such a low bar-we need to create a society where everyone has the freedom to fully become who they were meant to be. To me living a fulfilled life in this human experience is only possible if it is possible for everyone. To say you don’t see color or that all lives matter is to deny people their lived experience. It’s the same as saying "I don’t see you". I
see you; you
Black Lives Matter.