So I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I’ve been struggling through some pretty challenging days. Not just the challenges of processing all the violence in the news lately, but on the personal level, too. I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed and broken.
And cynical as heck. At least part of me is. The other part keeps wanting to think about hope, so much so that a post about hope has been percolating in my mind since I heard the news about the shooting in Dallas, which came too soon on the tails of too much gun violence.
I’ve worked with people during times of crisis in their lives, and I quickly learned that hope is one of the most important things people in crisis need. I’d put it right up there with food and water. One of the most cloying things I say came from those experiences: hope is like the sun because even when you can’t see it, it’s there.
I say cloying because I hate thinking that I came up with such sentiment on my cynical days.
Hope is like the sun, though. Even during dark, cynical, challenging times, it’s there … somewhere.
Like when I asked my teenager what he was thinking about with all the violent news, and he said he likes to think about things like the nine year old girl who celebrated her birthday by buying lunches for the officers at her local precinct in Detroit, MI, in lieu of gifts and a party. She bought lunches for the homeless, too. All in response to the Dallas shooting.
That interaction reminded me of something a friend had said about a clip from an interview with Fred Rogers. Rogers was talking about his mother teaching him to process tragedy by “looking for the helpers,” because there is always someone trying to help.
Hope is active. Like Samya Walker from Detroit, there’s always someone trying to help by offering support and empathy. Like whoever placed the five candles in blue glass jars at the base of the Maine Law Enforcement Memorial in Augusta, presumably to memorialize the five officers who died in Dallas. As I approached the memorial to take pictures, it was a beautiful, moving thing to see.
I’m three phone calls into the trail of finding out who put them there (possibly Capitol Police?) and have had great conversations with people at The Maine Chiefs of Police Association and the Augusta Police Department along the way. Sergeant Behr at the APD had organized a vigil on July 8, but he reported the candles were already there, and he, too, was moved upon seeing them.
Behr also said the Augusta community had been reaching out in support — just today someone brought flowers — and the support was greatly appreciated. Click here to see their Facebook page showing pictures/video of the vigil, the flowers and more.
Hope can grow into action and positive outcomes, and we desperately need that kind of hope now. My recent conversations and previous ones with law enforcement, like with Sheriffs Liberty and Reardon at the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, have left me thinking we need to offer a more substantive kind of hope to law enforcement.
In no way am I minimizing the importance of having a conversation about best practices for law enforcement and issues of race as pertaining to some law enforcement encounters. I am emphasizing that a big part of that conversation needs to include an honest look at our expectations of law enforcement.
Most law enforcement professionals are good people in the field with the intention to serve community. However, our systems of governance have ignored some serious social problems in the last couple decades. The burden of these growing problems has increasingly fallen on the shoulders of law enforcement.
In the wake of deinstitutionalization and with continued homelessness, poverty, and a long festering addiction epidemic, police officers are now expected to be social workers, medical caregivers, and mental health professionals.
We expect them to be educators, community activists, and mediators — and we expect them to enforce the law. And to put their lives on the line every single time they punch the clock. The officers in Dallas died protecting people protesting actions by law enforcement — that’s commitment to community.
We continue to pile expectations on law enforcement even though their compensation, training, and other resources don’t necessarily reflect the complexities of the job in this day and age. Essentially, law enforcement has become our social dumping ground; and changing that reality is going to take some seriously proactive hope beyond the food and flowers and well wishes.
It will require political leaders who are serious about bringing hope back to our communities and to law enforcement in the form of effective laws, policies, and resources.