Friday, July 15, 2016

You are NOT Allowed!

I am heartbroken over the events that have occurred in our country over the past several weeks. My close neighbors in Dallas are grieving deeply.  As a law enforcement chaplain, so much of what has occurred feels deeply personal.  A lot of what I have read and heard during the course of the past week is not based on fact. It feels like an emotional reaction to what we are all experiencing. And that’s understandable. Emotions ARE running high. Perhaps it’s time to insert story.  I do think there is power in story.  And I also believe there is value in firsthand experience. Here is my story…

It must have been nearly 25 years ago…I was riding out with an officer on the midnight shift. He was assigned to the downtown beat in Wichita Falls, TX.  We had a few moments before the pace of the shift picked up. He said: “I want to show you something.”  We drove down an alley behind an old building that been a hotel once upon a time. He shined his flashlight on some faded lettering. “Can you read that?” I strained to read the old letters, but I finally deciphered what it said. “No colored’s.” In other words, when that hotel was in business black people were not allowed to even enter the hotel through a rear entrance in the alley. He showed me the sign for one reason. The overt racism broke his heart. And he knew it would break mine too. We discussed characteristics of an era gone by that we both viewed as reprehensible. I will never forget seeing such a sign with my eyes....

On another ride-along experience during the same time period, the officer I was with was dispatched to a child not breathing. We arrived at the home of an African American family. Both of us literally ran into that apartment to start CPR, as we waited on medics to arrive. As it turned out, the child had been the victim of a homicide. As we ran into that apartment, race was not on our mind. We were focused on saving a child’s life. Neither of us slept well for period of time.  But our insomnia had nothing to do with race. We were crushed, because a child’s life was taken in such a violent manner.

A few years later not too far from where the child was murdered a house caught on fire early one morning. The officer assigned to that beat arrived before the fire department. Neighbors told him that an elderly man was trapped inside. With little regard for his personal safety he carried that man out of the burning home.  And just a side note…the officer was white and the victim was black.  Race was not the issue. Saving a man’s life was the primary concern.

During still another ride-along experience we were dispatched to a fatal car crash. A man riding a bicycle was struck by a car. It was a particularly gruesome scene that night. Ultimately criminal charges were brought against a young woman that hit the man on the bike. In this case, the perpetrator of the crime was white and the victim was black. The man who was killed did not have any identification on his person, so we worked diligently all night long to attempt to locate his next of kin. There were no discussions among us about his race that night. None. Our only objective was to find his family, so they could be notified properly and compassionately of his death.

Early one Sunday morning in Wichita Falls I accompanied an officer to deliver a death notification. When we arrived, we discovered the victim’s wife was an elderly black woman. I was a young, inexperienced chaplain. And the officer I was with was a seasoned veteran. But we were both white. I sensed immediately that our presence felt intimidating to that woman. As I recall, the officer I was with was exceptionally kind. But it didn’t make any difference. Racial barriers are all too real.  

Those are just a few stories that stand out. I am failing to mention the countless times that officers or state troopers I know bought gas out of their own pocket for someone broken down on the interstate. Meals have been purchased for people that are truly hungry. Officers stop their patrolling for a few moments to play basketball with a group of kids.  I have personally observed officers doing all of the above and much more for people of all races for many years now.

The final story I will share took place during a ride along with an officer here in Granbury. A man wasn’t paying attention and rear ended the car in front of him during heavy traffic on a Friday evening. The car that was rear ended was occupied by an African American family. The man driving appeared to be very nervous. The officer I was with secured the information he needed from the man and then went to the same with the inattentive driver in the other vehicle. I started chatting with the man who had been rear ended. He told me his family was driving from Dallas to Glen Rose to see the passion play down there. I told him they would really enjoy it and that we would get them going as soon as possible so they wouldn’t be late. The officer I was with explained to our out of town visitors that the other driver was at fault. He was friendly and cordial with a family that seemed genuinely fearful of encountering the police. We all shook hands and they left no doubt with a positive view of the police in Granbury, Texas.

Why do I share such stories?  Police officers are sworn to protect and serve people of all races. And the vast majority of them do it very well. I know there are rogue officers. They must be dealt with ever so severely. Those that carry weapons and have the authority to arrest must be held to the strongest level of accountability. Every single day officers are striving to do their job an environment that is often hostile and tense. And again, most of them are doing it really well.

After recent events in our country, I am fully aware that police officers on duty and in uniform have been asked to leave restaurants. They have been told that their presence is “not good for business.”  Perhaps such businesses should place a sign on their exterior walls that state: “No cops allowed.” Bigotry and discrimination are pervasive. And such exclusionary behavior is not limited to race. I have no patience with a hotel that puts a sign up stating “no coloreds allowed.”  What an awful chapter in our history.  But I also have no patience with the restaurant that says “no cops allowed.” 

I would encourage us to observe public servants that serve well and follow their example. It’s easy to sit in the comfort of our living rooms and criticize people of a different race or those that are sworn to protect and serve. In an emotional time in our country,let’s take a closer look at those who are breaking barriers by serving and loving well. 

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