Racism is a Condition of the Heart and Mind
It has been said in recent weeks “racism is a public health issue.” I would go further and state that racism and prejudice that turns our thoughts to thinking less of certain people is a “heart issue.” Racism is an idea that resides in the dark corners of a person’s heart and mind and can manifest itself in overt acts of violence or covert policies intended to elevate some while oppressing others. It is real and it is present.
No one I know in the profession of law enforcement could ever defend or justify how George Floyd was treated on May 25th, 2020. We’ve been appalled at what occurred on that fateful day and many of us have been heartbroken by his death and what has taken place since that tragedy.
I’ve spent 40 years in this profession. I’ve literally invested blood, sweat and tears in a career that I always felt was a calling. The guidance I received growing up and that was reinforced early in my law enforcement career was always to treat others with dignity and respect. I’ve dedicated time and energy to develop relationships within the community and especially those that may have been marginalized for whatever reason.
As a young police officer, I managed an open gym at my church for the youth in the community. With success we created opportunities for officers to play basketball with young men from predominantly minority neighborhoods. Apart from the common interest of basketball, these young men might not encounter police except while in the course of their job. We created relationships and friendships that carried great benefits for our neighborhoods.
As I progressed throughout my career and have been afforded more opportunities, the responsibility to make a positive impact has been central to my calling. Throughout it all was the belief that was instilled in me at a young age. When you truly believe that we are all created in the image of God, you truly believe that no one race is inherently superior to any other.
In my role as a law enforcement leader I have a duty to select candidates for this job through a thorough review process that hopefully weeds out those with evil intent. We have a responsibility to train and guide our fellow officers in compliance with policies that direct behavior appropriately to the law and community expectations. We have a requirement to reinforce good behavior and discipline bad behavior. And we have an obligation to listen to the community, be responsive and to the best of our ability be empathetic.
A little over a year ago I took my family to South Africa. I was participating in a summit with current and former law enforcement officers on the topic of principle based leadership. I visited both Cape Town and Johannesburg and spoke with many who had lived previously under apartheid. I spoke with white and black Africans, civilians and members of the police. I visited the townships and witnessed firsthand the abject poverty that so many deal with on a daily basis. I also talked with ministry and government leaders as they gave accounts of how they have struggled to overcome the consequences of racism and what they are doing now to move forward.
Within each story of success was the admission that racism was a condition of the heart and that significant personal improvement and societal change was difficult without first admitting this and dealing with it.
All of society plays a role in moving us forward. Education can help mold our minds as to what is appropriate behavior when we deal with those who are different from ourselves. Government, when lead by those who see value in all people, can encourage reform and create sound policies that promote opportunities equal for all members of society. Non-government organizations and faith-based ministries can contribute assistance to those who need help during difficult times. Families, neighborhoods and communities can best support and encourage each other through sometimes-uncomfortable discussions where dignity and respect remain the cornerstone. And law enforcement best fulfills its role in society when administered objectively, professionally and with compassion.
But for real change to occur, I believe it begins in the heart. We need to be forgiven, to forgive and consider the intrinsic and inherent nature of the value of all men and women; that we are all created equally in the image of God.