I can still see the warm glow of the “Season’s Greetings” marquee stretched over the Ferguson, Missouri street. It illuminated a formidable wall of police in riot gear. The scene was the antithesis of the spirit of Christmas, yet it didn’t seem surprising we found ourselves looking at it. If America had a family photo to put on a collective 2014 Christmas card to send the world that would’ve been it. Season’s Greetings and all.
2014 was a year full of tension, murder, exonerations, and riots. 2014 was the year Black Lives Matter became a household name. 2014 was the year my heart broke.
I sat on my couch with a friend and watched the chaos from my safe white neighborhood on TV. Inside my heart was much like the streets of Ferguson, in a state of unrest.
I grew up in a police family. Blue bloods as they say. Dad’s a cop, grandpa worked for the Sheriff’s department, brother is a corrections officer, uncle was elected county Sheriff for two terms, and countless cousins wear the uniform proudly each day. However, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to go to college. One thing I did know, cops are the good guys.
By 2014, I had graduated from college and was working for an NBC affiliate selling local advertising. Dream job: no. Comfortable job that paid more than most of my peers were making: yes.
When I watched the cars and buildings in Ferguson burn I realized that was the fire inside of me. Like a fish who doesn’t appreciate, or even recognize water until he is out of it, I was ripped from my comfortable swim through life by the obliteration of ignorance. The blinders of privilege had been removed.
I realized in that cosmic moment that not everyone in America believes police officers are trustworthy, noble, honorable, or even fair. The county I grew up in, which was 95% white, left its mark on how I view the world around me.
I knew I had to become a police officer. I knew I had to fix it, change it, or replace it. I also had to learn how we got here as a nation.
So then began my journey of applying – taking fitness tests, agility tests, lie-detector tests, interviews, and more tests. Then came the news that out of 1,400ish applicants, I would be attending the 20 week police academy. I said goodbye to my suits, desk, company laptop, and golf outings disguised as sales meetings.
I will never forget the first day of police academy, or the last. Every other day seems like one long day.
I have now been a police officer in a multicultural neighborhood for almost 5 years. I believe I have the best job in the world and I cannot believe I am paid to do it. I have saved a life – more than one actually. Who gets to say that?
I am now on a mission to ease the centuries-old tumultuous relationship between law enforcement and the black community. I want the world to understand that pursuing racial justice and supporting police are not mutually exclusive ideas. I am not a “white savior”. Trust that I am no expert, but merely an imperfect practitioner of justice. A broken vessel. I have followed my grieved spirit to my calling. I am student of civil rights who happens to wear a blue uniform.
Find what breaks your heart, then wear yourself out trying to fix it.