We have already had three law enforcement officers slain in Colorado this year. The latest casualty resulted from an incident roughly half a mile up the road from my home. A total of four officers were shot, one of them fatally, plus the suspect (also a fatality) and an innocent bystander. What I learned is that we cannot properly grieve for these tragedies any more.
What does it say about our current culture that one of my first thoughts was that I hoped the deceased suspect wasn't Black? That was not a likely scenario, if only because we do not have a high population of African Americans here in Colorado Springs. I think our community suffers from that, a lack of visible diversity and the cultural richness and vibrancy that comes with it. I digress. The line between the good guys and the bad guys is not as readily defined in this day and age as it once was. We trust no one, like we are living in an episode of The X-files or something. Authority has lost our respect, and too often there is a corpse unable to prove its innocence.
Maybe it never really was clear cut. Back in the nineteen sixties and seventies, when I was just a kid, activists used epithets to refer to policemen: Pig. The Fuzz. Copper. Cop. The consensus seemed to be that the police force worked for "The Man," not for average, ordinary citizens. Moreover they were agents of oppression of both ethnic minorities and minority viewpoints that disagreed with "the establishment." Sound familiar? Today, Whites are more likely to consider abuses of lethal force against minority suspects as isolated instances instead of rampant racism and oppression, but Black Lives Matter and other movements would beg to differ.
Alas, the shootout up the street appears to have no such controversy. El Paso County Sheriff's Department and Colorado Springs Police Department were conducting an investigation of an auto theft when things turned violent. A stolen car. That was worth killing for? The shooter was a 19-year old male. He had his whole life ahead of him, even if he had been arrested. The slain officer who died, to the day, on the eleventh anniversary of his hiring, had his two twin children's lives to look forward to.
We are appalled, disgusted, and struggling to come to terms with this as a neighborhood and city and county. We need to have a short memory, yet are told to never forget. I have walked that stretch of street countless times, and now it will never be the same. It has never crossed my mind that but for the grace of God I could take an errant bullet. No one should be living with that fear. Anywhere.
The public trust in law enforcement at street level here seems relatively healthy, for now, but one gets the uneasy feeling that it could all come apart with one incident of questionable use of force, someone's phone video, or a peaceful demonstration met with officers in riot gear. I think the bottom line in any given scenario is that the one who is the aggressor will always be the bad guy. Most of the time that will be a criminal, but once in a while it will be someone in uniform.
There are no easy answers, but maybe we can start with language. We can choose to continue throwing around derogatory slang terms for the police, or we can look at a thesaurus, as I did just now, and see that the first synonym listed for police officer is peace officer. Say it with me. Say it out loud. It has a calming quality, does it not? When was the last time you heard the word peace at all? Have we given up on the notion, even in our daily lives, let alone in regards to world conflicts? Maybe we need hope officers, too.
It takes a special breed of human being to comprehend the potential confrontation of their own mortality on a daily basis, and still want to serve the public good in the name of peace and justice, with the goal of saving lives and preventing violence and crime. You and I may not be that kind of person, but we can lead by example, be peace officers of a different caliber. We can go beyond mere racial "tolerance" and accept everyone as equal. We can walk the streets confidently, unarmed, unafraid, and eager to help others in need. Be not the aggressor. Be like Micah Flick.