My late father was a policeman for nearly 20 years after having first been a heavy equipment operator for the previous 20 years. He served as deputy and then as chief of police for two small communities in out-state Minnesota.
He was well liked and well respected for the work that he did and the way he interacted with the public. His persona was that of Mr. Friendly Policeman. Like most all policemen, he carried a gun, a never-used .38 Special. I must qualify that. He never used it on another human being, though removing stray dogs from the community usually involved a gunshot or two.
I admired my father and on occasion got to do a late evening ride along until something serious came up. I also got to sit in on the “coffee and doughnut runs” as he met with other community officers and county sheriff’s deputies nearing midnight.
Overall, I grew up impressed with the dedication of these officers, though several (in the 1960s) were clearly racist, sexist, homophobic, and on a couple of occasions, arrested as lawbreakers themselves.
Like many people, I share a deep anger and sorrow over how today’s police forces seem so strongly militarized both in firepower and attitude. From one news account to another, there is a seemingly endless pattern of shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot first while presuming guilt, not innocence — especially toward people of color. Then a blue wall of silence forms around misdeeds and cover-ups — it’s simply heartbreaking.
Again and again we learn of police officers who have been sworn to uphold the law and protect the innocent who instead act as judge, jury and executioner and of juries who too easily, too quickly and unjustifiably, grant the benefit of “fearing for one’s life” as an excuse even when the victim is unarmed or fleeing.
My faith tradition (Lutheran) teaches that “legitimate civil ordinances are good creations of God” and that “Christians are to obey present laws, whether they have been formulated by unbelievers or others and are to practice love for others through such obedience.” Verdicts that are justly rendered and fair punishments for crimes committed are a means by which God’s gift of government cares for the safety of the world.
Unjust verdicts and unfair punishments are to be challenged and resisted.
It shouldn’t be too much to demand that those same people who have been sworn to enforce the law must also obey the law themselves or be held accountable like everyone else. Broken oaths and tarnished badges put community life at risk.
ALL lives matter, not just those in uniform.
Columnist Kim Latterell can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.