I was 17 years old and sat down at my family’s kitchen table with my father to have “The Talk”. Now this talk wasn’t about the birds and the bees but rather something more important. He said to me that now that I was driving he wanted to talk to me about my potential interactions with law enforcement. He never tried to scare me about what could happen if I get stopped, but rather how I should behave when I did. I remember this story because I recall having the same conversation with my oldest son when he turned the same age. The conversation centered around not making sudden movements or being combative on these occasions. No matter whether I thought I was in the right or not, the idea was to leave the encounter without it escalating into something far worse.
I shared this story with a white colleague of mine the other day and he couldn’t recall having had this similar conversation with his father or for that matter with his own son. I said to him my experience is one that happens often in minority families, as this palpable fear of interacting with law enforcement has been passed down from generation to generation. It is based for some on the historical accounts that we saw during the height of the civil rights era in the 60s. For many others, it is also based on the other encounters that they have seen in their and their own family’s lives away from the camera to document. Its why many of us, even those of us who some think have “made it”, have a subtle fear regarding our next encounter with law enforcement.
But, with every story there is another side. I have had the pleasure of knowing many men and women of law enforcement over the course of my life. Men and women from different races, ethnicities, and upbringing who have sworn to serve and protect. Those that I have known each got into this field for the noblest of reasons, a desire and commitment to safeguard their communities. In the course of getting to know these officers I have learned more about them as people. I have fellowshipped with their families in church, been at their children’s birthday parties, and watched their families grow. I count many as some of my closest friends and pray for their safety every day as I pray for members of my own family.
It was these two groups, young minority men and law enforcement officers, whom I turned to after the recent events in Baton Rouge, suburban Minneapolis and Dallas to get their perspective. I wanted to speak to them, but more importantly, listen to them talk to me about their feelings and what if any direction we can and should go from here. I wanted to hear from both because as I learned in these conversations, the similarities of their feelings on the topic was striking. Both groups told me about how they felt that they were misunderstood and oftentimes mischaracterized due to actions of others. And, both spoke about how they fear that the recent incidents will further fuel these feelings and lead to greater mistrust.
While, the discussions centered around the problems we all agreed and came to a similar conclusion that in order to change these feelings we cannot get overwhelmed with trying to “fix” our country alone. The issue of racial tension spans decades and generations so it’s impossible to change things overnight. And though our country has made enormous strides in the area of race, far too many of my fellow Americans still feel they are treated differently based on the color of their skin. However, what is in our control is our ability to do what we can to change the narrative. If each of us does this, it all adds up and it all counts. And, it will make a difference.
My heart weeps for the families of all those killed unjustly at the hands of law enforcement. That same feeling of profound sadness is equally in my heart when members of law enforcement are senselessly murdered while performing their duty. And, before anyone attempts to try and draw lines in the sand or separate us into camps for their own callous and opportunistic agenda, it is possible to find multiple things horrific and indefensible.
So, I call on you just like I challenge myself, to find a way to make a positive difference in this troubling arc of our country’s relationship between law enforcement and the communities they represent. That means becoming an active participant in changing this narrative, by engaging both groups about the challenges that each face. That cannot occur by standing behind social media posts or by making reckless statements. It takes us willing to confront these challenges head-on by sitting down together and working through them. I plan to continue this dialogue with community groups and law enforcement on this important topic.
So, what will you do? For some, it could mean helping to diversify police forces by joining them…for others it could mean leading a community discussion with law enforcement on their perception in the minority community….or it could be by engaging our young men and women of color about their role in effectuating positive change in their relationship with law enforcement. Whatever course of action you choose, reconcile yourself to doing something to positively impact this fracture of our American family.
Our democracy has always been complicated and imperfect. But, through all of its trials and tribulations I still believe that the majority of my fellow Americans regardless of race, politics or class do not seek divisiveness, but rather a path to move our nation forward. Working together we can and MUST do this. I look forward to a day when I sit down with my youngest son and have “The Talk” and hopefully the subject will be a lot less heavy. That’s my take. What’s yours?
Share in the comments:
How can you change the narrative in your community?