Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Sweeping Statements

Since the summer, observers of American current events have been treated to instance after instance of violent confrontations between police officers and members of the public.

There are lots of issues to be debated, and resolved. Race relations, police behavior, the militarization of police departments, “living while black” … plenty of issues to work on, and sadly, plenty of people who are either reacting or bloviating out of fear, or prejudice, or lack of information besides their own upbringing, or (to me, most awful) the genuine need to capitalize on these issues for their own political or personal self-aggrandizement.

Today, I’m not going to try to tackle any of those issues here, … well, except one.

One of the challenges of the recent national strife concerning police behavior, for me, has been this: while I’m not sure it’s just a very tiny few “bad apples” amongst our nation’s legion of law enforcement personnel, I certainly can’t bring myself to whitewash ALL police.

At one time, I could have said something like, “all my interactions with police – the occasional getting-pulled-over for traffic-violations, or my conversations with the resident police officer in the public schools in which I’ve worked, or my interactions with police officers on duty at football games wherein I’ve been the band director, or whatever – have featured officers who have been polite and decent, even if sometimes they’d needed to be tough and enforce the law, etc etc.”

Forgive me, but for my entire life, I’ve been white and suburban. Forgive me, but I’ve never been a person of color during these encounters. I don’t know what that’s like, and therefore it’s never been a factor in my life. I admit this freely.

So I can’t as easily say, “well, my experience tells me that only a tiny fraction of the police community suffers from whatever it is that makes people mistreat other people.” My sample size is too small to constitute a statistically viable survey.

Meantime, I can’t whitewash all police, for the same reason that I’d love to ask certain people (in my life and in the mass media) if they know any gay persons, Muslim persons, etc., personally? Because if they did, they might not make so many blanket statements about them, and might sound more informed and perhaps sound (be?) more empathetic. You’re talking like you know everything you need to know, and I don’t think you do.

So here’s why I can’t whitewash: I can think, right off the top of my head, of four people I knew personally before they were various forms of police officer (campus-, city-, and state-).

One of them, I marched with in college. We were both reed players. Our band director was pretty big on suggesting (and modeling) positive traits. “Band is a place for everyone,” and all that.

Two of them, I got to work with when they each were members of the Drum Major Academy “Impact team”, the group of collegiate band members who assisted DMA staff with instruction and logistical support. A place wherein they, too, were called upon to suggest and model. And they were both drum majors at the University of Delaware, as it happens; so they learned from the DMA’s founder and from one of his very most effective students.

And the fourth one, who just very recently joined a major metropolitan police force, grew up in the church wherein I gig (he’d played drums for us since he was 13) and is the son of one of our choir singers, himself one of the finest people with whom I’ve had the good fortune of making music.

Each of them were “raised” by quality people in quality environments, environments which emphasized “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and Starred Thoughts, and other such concepts that help to turn them, I would posit, into decent people who are now doing a very difficult job.

So I thought of them this week, when two New York City police officers were shot to death in their squad car. And when two Las Vegas police officers were murdered as they ate lunch in an outdoor restaurant, last spring. And whenever I see a State Police officer pull someone over on the interstate, not knowing who he or she might find in the driver’s seat, or what that driver might be carrying, or what state of mind that driver might be in. I sure as hell thought of them when those bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, nearly two years ago. For these people, their job is to run toward trouble – and, all too often, trouble can run toward them.

And I thought of their family members, who absolutely all the time live with the sense that today might be *that awful day*.

And I’ve thought of all of them as I’ve watched news coverage of the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, and now Berkeley, Missouri – and as I’ve watched news coverage of the protests that have ensued, violent or not.

This is not to say that there isn’t one hell of a problem out there, not merely brewing but in full bloom. Not easy to know just what to do … do we just stand by and let it happen without raising a lot of questions? How, and how loudly, do we raise those questions? Where necessary, do we raise a lot of hell? And how might we do that, while still acknowledging that there are good and decent people “on the force” who don’t deserve the abuse that some protestors are heaping upon them?

But these particular friends of mine in blue have relatively recently entered a profession which is a challenge to begin with. For the most part, police deal with members of the public who are having really bad days. Of all the people who have to be “at their best when things are at their worst” …!

And right now, they may have much more intense opportunities to see whether in fact those Starred Thoughts and scriptural admonitions can be put to good use.

Not an easy job, either.


December 24, 2014 - Posted by | civil rights, current events, DMA, news, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , ,

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