I received a question from somebody yesterday about the Michael Brown incident. The questions was this ... "Having been a police officer - what do YOU think of their decision to not have the officer face charges for this murder?"
Not knowing much about this incident - I hesitated to respond. First of all, I realized that I was being baited into a pissing contest - and I try to avoid pissing contests at all costs - but I did feel that I owed my friend a response - and I'm pretty sure that he didn't expect to hear this from me - or anybody else.
What do I think?
What do I think?
... what I think doesn't matter half as much as what I am seeing. I see cars being flipped over - buildings being damaged and looted. On one channel, I see a police officer trying to explain his actions, while on another channel I see the parents mourning their child - and mourning the results of a legal process that they have lost faith in.
I see people yelling. I see people marching in the streets. I see people hating each other.
I hear cries. I hear arguing. I hear disagreements on both sides of an issue that just seems to be bringing out the worst and best from so many people.
I see the media sensationalizing this situation from every angle in an attempt to keep the emotions on both sides heightened for as long as possible. I find that disrespectful to everybody involved in this situation.
You see ... I have no side in this in this issue - but I do have life experience that gives me a very unique perspective. I find it interesting that you have asked me this question because I was a police officer.
When you think of that uniform - you obviously think of me - and you have baited me into this response because I was a "a cop" ... and because I was "a cop" - I am being singled out and baited into a private sub-argument. So ... against my better judgement, I'll bite around the hook.
Let me state that my law enforcement career is just a small part of my life experience. It does not define my life - nor does it define me as a person. In almost 50 years, I have been many different things - I have worn many different uniforms - many different hats - and I am aware of who and where I am today because of all that I have experienced.
Now ... I can clearly see that you are upset with law enforcement. That is understandable because of the emotions that are charging and fueling this incident. I won't pretend to understand your point of view because I have not walked in your shoes. I have not lived your life - I have not experienced your struggles. Your perspective is unique to your personal experience. So is mine.
So ... I thought I would take a moment to share with you my experience and why I became a police officer (over 20 years ago). You may be surprised - you may change your mind - or maybe you won't. I have no control over how you will take my response, but here it goes ...
In the fall of 1980, I was 14 years old. I was at my brother's flag football game at local field in Hollywood, Florida. We had forgotten something at home, and my mother had asked me to walk back home - it was about 5 blocks - I had to run home - retrieve what ever it was - and bring it back. So off I went - powered by Converse.
I looked no different than any other teenage at the time. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt - my hair was kind of long and shaggy - and I probably looked like I was up to no good - but I really wasn't. I was good kid - even if I didn't look the part.
Two blocks into my journey - from out of nowhere - a police car quickly pulled up beside me and stopped abruptly. The officer got out of his car and approached me with a scowl - screaming for me to put my hands on the car. I was scared shit-less. Even though I had done nothing wrong - I almost ran out of fear. The officer startled me - and his demeanor gave me the impression that I was going to experience his wrath.
After I was told to put my hands on the car. I did. Then I found out that it wasn't good enough for him, so he violently kicked my legs apart and tossed me head first over the hood of the car. My left arm scraped against the windshield wiper on the passenger side of his patrol car. When I raised my arm up to look at my injuries, he pulled me by the back of my t-shirt and ripped it as he tossed me back on the hood of the car - head first. He asked me my name. He then rummaged through my pockets. He tossed everything I had onto the hood of the car and berated me for over 10 minutes.
People came out of their houses to watch. This was not my neighborhood - nobody knew who I was. The officer continuously insulted me personally - I was called an asshole. I was called a spic (being Italian, I wasn't sure if I qualified for the slur - but he seemed to like calling me that). I was also called a dumb-ass. All I was doing was walking home and doing what my mother had asked me to do.
I was to told to "get the f--- out of that neighborhood" and then he left.
I ran home. Got the item. I took a different - longer route back to the football field - and completely avoided that neighborhood.
My mother was enraged when she saw my arm - my clothes were ripped - and I was terrified. I distinctly remember that when she called - there was no record of any police officer stopping me in that neighborhood.
So ... I've been there - and I know what it is like to feel violated. That was 34 years ago - but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was my one and only experience - I can't even imagine having to deal with that on a regular basis.
In 1986, a friend of mine was being harassed and threatened by her estranged boyfriend. She pleaded with the police to help her because she feared for her life. They dismissed her requests for help as a simple "lovers spat" - they did nothing at all - and 2 nights later she was murdered by him at the location she was hiding. She was shot twice in the head - and then he turned the gun on himself. She was 20 years old. She did everything she was supposed to do. It's a shame that law enforcement didn't do all that they could do.
Those are the two significant reasons that pushed me to becoming a police officer. I wanted to be different. I wanted to make a difference. That is why I wore the badge.
I believe that I did make a difference. My 5 years as a police officer was a lot of things - but it mostly a struggle for me to try to find a way to "fit in". People that served with me on the El Paso Police Department will tell you that as well. I did the best that I could day after day - night after night - and I parted ways when I didn't enjoy the job anymore. If you don't love that job, you shouldn't be out there. If you don't love that job, you become a liability to the people around you. Thank God I noticed that and moved on.
In my law enforcement days, I worked with some really great people. I also worked with some real jerks - but its like that in any job. There are good and bad people everywhere. I never tossed anybody over the hood of a patrol vehicle. I never called anybody names or lashed out on them in anger. If somebody called for help, I did all that I could do for them - even if some of the people that I worked with thought that I was getting too "personally involved" in the call - I did all that I could because ... I had a purpose. I always believed then - as I do now - you can never do too much for somebody in need. I never looked the other way.
That is who I was behind the badge. That is who I am now. I doubt that I will ever change. If that's a fault, so be it - that's how I'm wired.
I have also lived through the experience of losing a child. It has been 22 years. That pain never goes away. You think about it all the time. Holidays are different - so are anniversaries - it is sharp, dull, constant pain that pierces your heart and soul on a daily basis. I pray for anybody that has lost a child. They know a pain far too great to explain in words.
I have also worked in the local media on and off for many years now. I know what goes in to "keeping a story alive". The depths that some people will go to aggressively "keep a story a live" or to "manipulate/add fuel to the fire/create a public outcry" is limitless. When I see this at any level of media, it is a sure sign of a lack of talent, creativity, and personal integrity. I know that because on several occasions I have lacked talent, creativity, and personal integrity when faced with a deadline. Guilty as charged.
So what do I think?
Having the perspective that I have today - I think it is a very unfortunate situation. I think that people need to put love where there is no love. I think that people need to try and understand each other more. I think that people need to listen more than they talk. I think we need to love our kids. I think that we should exercise our compassion more than we exercise our need to exploit our political views. I think we need to do something for somebody other than ourselves - expecting nothing in return. I think that we need to realize that skin color does not perpetuate hatred - people perpetuate hatred. I think we need to show compassion. I think we should think before we speak. I think we need to look at ourselves before we look at others. I think our actions need to reflect our words. I think we need to forgive more than we realize. I think we need to turn to God - not violence. I think we need to realize that we are all human and we all make mistakes - and that "human" is an all-inclusive, terminal condition. I think that we need to concentrate on what we have in common - rather than to use the things that make us different as an excuse for division. I think that in this situation - everybody is right - and I also think that everybody is wrong ... ON BOTH SIDES OF THE MIRROR.
That's what I think ... and I won't try to force anybody to think the same way.