Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bridging the divide -- Madison officer shows how we can support Black Lives Matter and the police

Testimony of white Madison police officer should inspire confidence that positive change is possible

I am someone who is sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement. As a white male, I know that I can never truly understand what it’s like to grow up and live as an African American in our community. But I can recognize when injustices occur, and I do want to see positive changes in our society.

I’m also someone who is supportive of police officers and the important role they play in keeping us safe. Most officers deserve our respect. There are certainly instances where some have crossed a line and conducted themselves in ways that we wouldn’t and shouldn’t accept. But we cannot assume that all officers behave in this way. Most are decent, hard-working, and stellar individuals.

It is possible to hold both views, to be pro-Black Lives Matter and pro-police. You can request changes to institutional rules of the police force, and also be supportive of the police force overall. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Trevor Noah, host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, puts it best: “[I]f you’re pro Black Lives Matter you're assumed to be anti-police, and if you're pro-police, then you surely hate black people… In reality, you can be pro-cop and pro-black, which is what we should all be!”

Noah isn’t alone in this line of thinking. Madison police officer Emily Samson, who understandably supports protecting and supporting the law enforcement community she belongs to, is also trying to reach out to Black Lives Matter supporters.

Speaking at a recent Madison Common Council meeting, Samson attempted to bridge the divide between both sides. She did so physically -- by placing herself halfway between two opposing encampments in the room (Black Lives Matter and Madison police supporters) -- and verbally, through her emotional testimony:

From the reporting of Abigail Becker at the Cap Times:
Since the death of Tony Robinson, a black teen who was shot by a white police officer in March 2015, Samson said she has looked to change careers. In her testimony, she described a “pivotal” moment the day after the shooting when a man and a boy approached her outside of Robinson’s house.

“He said to him, ‘Don’t wear your hood in front of her, son, or she’ll shoot you.’” Samson said as she grew emotional. “The fact that I live in a community where a father has that fear and a child has that fear breaks my heart. I didn’t know if I could continue to wear the uniform anymore.”
Officer Emily Samson
“I was willing to shed the uniform and to walk away from it,” she added, directly addressing the Black Lives Matter activists in the room. “But I don’t know if that’s what you would want me to do because I want to help bridge the divide, and I want to help make a difference. ... I’m willing to listen, and I’m willing to change the things that are in my power to change.”

I for one hope that Samson doesn’t resign. We need a hundred officers just like her in Madison, and thousands more across the country, who will attempt to bridge the divide between themselves and others in uniform, and the African American communities who feel disempowered and even subjugated by law enforcement.

Again, we should honor those that wish to serve as police officers. Many times it is a thankless job, and other times it’s one in which the public will openly criticize. That criticism should be recognized too, and more should be done to address the desires of the Black Lives Matter movement also.

You can support both. Being for something doesn’t make you against something else. And Officer Emily Samson, who bravely spoke of bridging the divide between law enforcement and Black Lives Matter,, is proof of that. The people of Madison should feel honored that she has chosen to serve them.

No comments:

Post a Comment