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Current Events Ink Slingers Misty Vocations

The War on Cops Has to End

copsA few weeks ago, I walked into the grocery store and was immediately assaulted by the Time magazine cover declaring that “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” Beneath the giant white letters on a black background was a blurry picture of a police officer chasing a black man. I walked up to the magazine pile and briefly considered dumping all of the issues in the trash. Instead, I just turned them over so that the cover wasn’t visible, then spent the rest of my grocery trip so angry I forgot half of my list.

For the past 20 years, I’ve been married to a police officer. And in all that time, I’ve never witnessed the kind of vitriol directed at cops as I have in the past two years. In the past, those willing to pass blanket criticism of law enforcement fell into two general groups: 1) those who consistently run afoul of the law and 2) people who had recently received a speeding ticket. Most folks, though, were willing to concede that the men and women in blue were decent people just doing a tough job. A few even appreciated their sacrifices; a rarer few considered police work an honorable vocation.

Recently, however, there’s been a shift in the general attitude toward police. I’ve witnessed countless online conversations in which the assumption is that cops are really just corrupt, power-hungry thugs that need to be reigned in. I’ve been in groups where people’s demeanor visibly changes when they learn I’m married to a cop; the same person who was just pleasantly talking to me becomes immediately reticent or even mocking in her tone. Last week, when my husband and 12-year-old son attended Police Week in Washington, D.C., an annual event honoring slain officers, a woman came up to them on the street and shouted “F— you!” to each individual cop in their group, as well as to our son for being with them. Another man on a bike screamed “F— the police!” so disruptively during the memorial service that he was arrested for disturbing the peace.

What’s stunned me is that the people I now see saying and doing these things are not criminals or anarchists, but your average, middle-class citizens. They’re professionals, mothers, Christians. I actually left Facebook entirely after seeing a conversation in which several Catholic women I’d thought were my friends were talking about the “institutionalized police brutality” and saying that most cops are just interested in “oppressing people.” A parishioner recently told me she understands why people heckle police who set up a perimeter when an officer has been killed, “Because if the cops had just left them alone in the first place, none of that would have happened.” (You know, because police can decide which calls they’re going to respond to.)

It's been distressing to read so many bashing police when our friends gave their lives last year to serve the public.
It’s been distressing to read so many bashing police when our friends gave their lives last year to serve the public.

The increasing hostility toward police has become especially intolerable to me since last May, when my husband’s partner and boss were murdered in an Alaskan village; a young man shot them to death for simply trying to arrest his father. Sgt. Scott Johnson left behind a wife and three teen daughters; Gabe Rich left behind a fiancee and two young sons. Last year, 117 people in law enforcement died; 45 police have already died so far this year. Yet I notice there has been no Time cover declaring that “BLUE LIVES MATTER.”

Few people know that before my husband asked me to marry him, he showed me a video of a police officer getting killed. He wanted me to know that this could be my reality, that he could go to work one day and never come home. I chose to live with those risks and God has generosity given us two decades together. But there has been an incredibly steep cost to all of us for my spouse to serve and protect.

Our children have nightmares and anxiety that they’re going to lose their father, which has only been heightened by the murder of his coworkers last year. Under the chronic pressures and trauma of police work, the outgoing, gregarious man with a palpable joie de vivre I married has faded into a quiet, socially-withdrawn man who suffers from insomnia and nightmares when he does sleep.

And why shouldn’t he have nightmares? He once held a dying seven-year-old boy in his arms and then had to listen to his family wail for hours while he guarded the body…he’s seen men, women, and children literally torn apart, their pieces strewn across the road or floor from accidents and suicides…he’s seen children and women beaten and unimaginably sexually abused. Last year, he had to walk through his friends’ blood and brain matter as he secured the house they were murdered in, as their bodies lay on the floor in a heap in front of him…and then he had to go back to that same small village and walk by that same house several times a month. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that only military personnel have a higher suicide rate than police officers.

Having seen the cost to my husband and countless other police officers, it’s truly incredible to me that an increasing number of people in our society look at cops with no awareness of or appreciation for the profound personal sacrifices they make. They look at these men and woman who give so much of themselves, who suffer so much privately to carry the terrible psychological burdens that they do–and they assume the worst about them. It never occurs to the growing number of cop-bashers that CNN or MSNBC or The New York Times might want to distract the public from more serious, impactful issues being mangled by our elected leaders. Or that the media has a vested financial interest in stirring up controversy. Or that there’s a reason grand juries–the ones with ACTUAL facts about cop shootings–almost always acquit police officers of wrongdoing, even in the most publicized cases like Ferguson.

It never occurs to people that maybe, having never actually had the training that cops do or faced the same risks that they do…it doesn’t occur to people that the police deserve the benefit of the doubt until the facts prove otherwise.

If you happen to be someone with a less-than-favorable opinion about police, I invite you to get into the trenches with them by scheduling a ride-along with your local department. Spend a shift or two with a cop, with an ordinary man or woman who has dreams, bills, fears, maybe even kids like you do. Watch him deal with infantile adults who can’t manage their lives, with the horrors of domestic violence and child sexual abuse, with delivering death notices to people that their loved ones have died. Watch her and consider that you likely couldn’t do her job (I know I couldn’t).

Then thank the officer, go home, and cancel your subscription to Time.

Categories
Current Events Ink Slingers Mary P.

Seeing {Current Events} With the Eyes of Jesus

eyes-of-Christ2

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you probably have heard about the situation that has been going on in Baltimore, MD over the last couple of weeks. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, the gist of it is this: a 25 year old black man, Freddie Gray, died from a spinal cord injury sustained while in the custody of Baltimore police, and six officers were charged with (but not yet convicted of) several crimes related to the incident, ranging from false imprisonment to second degree murder. There has been much protesting of racism and police brutality, as well as some extremely violent, destructive rioting, in the name of Freddie Gray.

This situation has been weighing heavily on me.  Although it doesn’t affect me like it affects Gray’s loved ones, or citizens of inner-city Baltimore, or Baltimore police officers, it does affect me in a personal way.  I’m the wife of a police officer. These incidents always seem to lead to an increase in both hateful rhetoric about and violence against police officers. During times of unrest, my anxiety when my husband leaves for work is higher, as the potential danger to him (and my awareness of it) is higher. I’m also truly heartbroken by what I saw play out in Baltimore during the worst of the “protesting,” and more importantly, by the possibility that six officers showed heinous disregard for the rights and life of another human being. No one deserves to die as Freddie Gray died, no matter their background.

police-badge-263x350On the subject of police misconduct, most people are happy to divide themselves into one of two opposing camps, tearing down their opponents with insults and angry words. To many people, everything is black and white: Cops are racist. Cops always abuse their power. Cops are the real “thugs.” Or, Racism isn’t really a problem anymore. The police were just doing their jobs. Criminals deserve what they get, and they’re better off dead. As a police wife, there is a temptation for me to plant myself firmly in the latter camp. Defend police no matter what; act like the world is obviously divided into heroes and villains (with cops always being the heroes of course). Police and their spouses/children are all part of one big family, and I hate when people speak badly about my family.

It reminds me another situation in which the world was insulting my family, and all I wanted to do was defend it. During the Church sex abuse scandal, I didn’t want to acknowledge that my beloved Church had failed so many people. I didn’t want to see any criticism of the Church as anything other than the words of “enemies.” But, the truth then, as now, was that the world isn’t as simple as I wish it were. Both priests and police are human beings, and the one thing that {nearly} every human being has in common is sin. There are bad police out there–though they are not the majority–just as there are bad priests (and bad teachers, and bad lawyers, etc.) When you are given power over other people, there may be a temptation to abuse it. There is a need for police and loved ones of police to recognize that there are imperfect people –even criminally imperfect—among them, because otherwise we are enablers, just as those who denied that there were priests abusing children were enablers.

On the other hand, it’s wrong to universalize the sins of the minority of police, as if any officer with integrity is an anomaly (or a fairy tale), just as it is wrong when people universalize the sins of abusive priests. It’s also wrong when we do it to people of a certain race or who live in a certain part of the city. Catholics who do this are doubly wrong, because they should know better. When we categorize people into groups and make assumptions about them based on those groups, we run the risk of dehumanizing them. It dehumanizes poor, black people to imply that they are all criminals who deserve whatever is the outcome of their contact with police. It dehumanizes police to say that they universally abuse their power and deserve whatever happens to them at the hands of angry citizens. And, it’s impossible for us to fight against the injustice of dehumanizing one group of people while dehumanizing another.

Back around Christmas, months before the death of Freddie Gray, hatred for police officers felt to me like it was at an all-time high. Assaults and murders of police officers were definitely on the rise. And I was very angry. I didn’t understand how people could think that my husband and all his co-workers were just “thugs with badges,” racists, narcissists, etc. How could fellow Catholics and people I cared about contribute to the dangerous anti-police climate with their overgeneralizations and hateful comments? My husband and I talked to priest friend about the situation.  He had me recite a prayer that really helped me to let go of some of that anger. Here is a version of that prayer:

Today I pray, Lord, please…

Let me see with your eyes

Let me hear with your ears

Let me speak with your words

Let me lift up with your hands

Let me walk with your feet

Let me love with your heart

Jesus, in your name, I pray. Amen.

In praying this prayer, I was asking for the grace to fight extra hard against the temptation to pit myself against the “other,” and the temptation to turn away from the hurt of others so I didn’t have to deal with the possibility that members of my police family could do anything wrong. I had to seek to understand where the “other side” was coming from, even if some {or a lot} of what they were saying was wrong. I also had to stop participating in angry arguments with people who insulted my husband and his profession—which he believes to be a calling—and mocked the sacrifices that he and our family make. I had to forgive the people who questioned my husband’s integrity and made us feel unsupported. Now, I’m going through that process all over again in light of this recent incident.

But this prayer is not just about that situation. No matter what the circumstances, seeing with the eyes of Jesus, hearing with Sacred Heart LG
his ears, and speaking with his words, means seeing, hearing, and speaking Truth. The Truth is not usually found exclusively in one “camp” or another in polarizing situations. The Truth is not found in over-generalizing and categorizing. It’s not found in believing and parroting a media narrative that is nearly always one-sided and divisive.  The Truth is found when we look at, listen to, and relate to each other as human beings, precious in God’s sight. And it’s found when we search for it, instead of shutting our eyes in the face of anything that doesn’t fit our preferred narrative.

Lifting up with Jesus’ hands and loving with his heart means that we don’t tear down or fail to love one group because we are focused on another. And it means that we don’t evaluate first whether someone deserves our help or our love. We will never be good enough to deserve Jesus’ love and yet he loves us beyond all measure anyway; so how can we withhold our love from others because we don’t think they deserve it?

Walking with the feet of Jesus means going to some uncomfortable places, both literally and figuratively. Jesus took on humanity and walked in our shoes, so we have to be willing to walk in the shoes of others. Having empathy for people on the “other side” doesn’t mean we excuse their sinful behavior; we need not confuse the two. Being Christ-like never means defending or enabling sin, but it does mean being merciful and compassionate toward sinners, regardless of whose side they are on.

It’s never enough for us to say we are on the side of justice, or goodness, or ethical behavior. Even if we are right about which side that is, our “rightness” means nothing if we do not see, hear, speak, lift up, walk, and love like Jesus.