Listening

We are in big trouble if we don’t learn how to listen.  Right now, there’s a lot of talking going on but listening seems to be in shorter supply.  About a week ago, I had a conversation with one of my dearest friends, T (not full name), who is a police officer in Tennessee.  T and I have been friends since we were like 4 years old or something when we met when our older siblings were getting on the bus to go to school.  

On my way to my retreat last week, he and I talked for about 45 minutes because I wanted to hear his perspective on what is taking place with the protests, the calls for defunding the police, and so forth.  He also wanted to hear my perspective as he had seen my post a few weeks ago about how “It Can Be Both” regarding Black Lives Matter and supporting police.  There was way too much to type up in just one blog post but there were several things that struck me in the course of our conversation that I would like to share.  

First, a reminder that police are human beings and they are trying to do their jobs to the very best of their abilities and that they are each doing a HARD JOB.  He shared about experiences where people were brought in to experience a simulation of some of what an officer has to do in making split second decisions and how people who were previously highly critical of police began to see things in a very different light as a result. He shared about the emotional stress that officers feel every day and the number of traumatic events that they face, often without healthy venues to process and heal.  They are human beings seeking to protect and to serve.  Let’s not forget that. 

Second, training.  T went through the level of training required not just to join the force where he serves but also to stay on the force.  No, not every department requires this same level as he could only speak to where he serves. He detailed all kinds of on going training that is REQUIRED of every officer in their department.  These included sensitivity training, de-escalation, racial history of their city, and many many more.  Interestingly…did you know that as a pastor, I am not REQUIRED to do any kind of ongoing training to stay ordained/licensed as a pastor?  Yes I get continuing education time and funds but my continuing to serve as a pastor is not connected to whether I am doing any kind of ongoing personal work.  So, technically a pastor could finish seminary and then do absolutely no further training / education until retirement some 30-40 years later.  Yet for officers in this department a huge amount of ongoing, every year training is required.

Third, math.  Let me initially say that this next section in no way is to diminish or lessen the realities of what we have seen in too many cases with policing and the justice system as they relate to persons of color.  There are systemic realities that need to be worked on and changed.  That being said, T reminded me of roughly how many interactions take place every year between police officers and those they are pledged to protect and to serve.  He shared that there are over 300 million interactions between police and citizens every year.  Again, I will say that this doesn’t mean that we don’t need to work to change what led to the murder of George Floyd or too many others but there is also a larger picture that we need to hold alongside.  

Fourth, T shared “good cops dislike nothing more than bad cops, because then is good cops have to work even harder to build that trust back up. Keep in mind, I’ve talked to many officers who believe the George Floyd, Tamir Rice, and Walter Scott were all horrible incidents. We will continue to work hard to be better,”  This is absolutely true.  It is easy to look at the actions of a few and paint every officer with the same brush.  As I serve in a profession where there have been a lot of horrible incidents committed by other members of the clergy, I understand T’s statement.  We all know the realities of priests/pastors who  have abused children, have covered those situations up, and others who have committed crimes.  As a result, because of the actions of a few, it affects the many.  

To go back to my original post from a few weeks ago, I do believe it is possible to hold both of these things together. We can and we must work for change in direct, peaceful, and restorative ways. And at the same time, we can recognize and honor what hundreds of thousands of officers are trying to do day in and day out. We can pray for them for wisdom and compassion in the split second decisions that they are forced to make. And we can pray for their safety as well as each one of them is putting their life on the line each and every day. We can hold all of these things together.

There were some points that T and I disagreed in the course of the conversation and that’s a reality but here’s the thing.  He listened to me, I listened to him.  I asked questions of him, he asked them of me.  I know him.  He knows me.  I know his heart and his commitment and I trust him and he me.  Some of that is the relationship that we have shared literally for almost our entire lives.  But some of it is also a desire to want to hear one another and to seek to understand.  

Thank you T.  

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