After watching Serpico, I remember asking my dad if there were any bad cops in our hometown police department. He paused, then gave me this answer:
"Well, son, there are good cops, and there are bad cops, just like there are good bakers and bad bakers. Unfortunately there are always some who don't play by the rules and hurt others. But for us, yes, there are mostly good cops."
I responded, "But bad bakers don't kill other good bakers, or other people."
My dad smiled and nodded. "You are correct, son. You are correct. They do not. Not usually."
They never do. They just go out of business, I thought.
Our dad wasn't without his own biases, or our entire family for that matter, but time and again while he was alive and after he passed away, and after 32 years on the force, good guys and bad guys alike couldn't help but like him. He taught us a lot empathy, inclusion and forgiveness, even when it wasn't intentional. Our mom did the same. They both loved their families and God.
And then in the summer of 2012 he was gone, and four months later she was gone. It's hard to imagine them here today, in the middle of pandemic with all the health issues they used to have, of what we'd have to do to care for them.
But I do want them both here today -- I know my sister does as well. I want my dad to be here and to tell me why there are still bad cops doing the wrong things in our communities. Why they hate so much and keep using such excessive force killing black and brown men and women. Why supposedly good cops stand by and do nothing. Why so many of them are never arrested or prosecuted. Why so many police reforms are never sustained. Why the normalcy of racism in this country continues.
killing of George Floyd by a white police officer who kneeled on his neck until he stopped breathing, has incited protests and violence across the U.S. This because George Floyd, an unarmed African American had supposedly tried to use a counterfeit bill at a convenience store. George Floyd, one more name in a sea of names that, when I think about, I couldn't name, other than Ahmaud Arbery. He was another unarmed black man who was jogging and then chased by two white men and gunned down because they said they were trying to make a citizen's arrest, when there is no such thing.
Thankfully there are those who help us remember, like the daughter of an old friend from high school who created a poster with all the names.
I want my dad (and mom) here today to help answer the why questions, because I struggle to answer them for my own daughters. My wife and I have be teaching our girls about slavery and how people of color have been treated poorly throughout American history since they were little.
Both girls listened and ask legitimate questions like "why would people do that" over and over, questions that aren't hard for us to discuss, but hard for us to answer being a white family who have not experienced systemic discrimination like non-whites have in this country for hundreds of years. Which is why, at the end of the day, my dad probably wouldn't be able to answer them either, no matter how hard he tried. White supremacy is the legacy of the modern day police force and it needs a bigger condemnation than "good cops and bad cops," and more serious reforms than have fizzled out to date. Don't get me wrong, I love my dad, I just wish we would've gone deeper on this subject together.
The other day I told my daughters about George Floyd and what's been happening in our country. They didn't know because we don't watch the news with them.
"I don't understand why skin color matters!" said Beatrice, after I finished.
"I know," I said.
"They just need to get over it!" said Bryce.
Wow, Bryce. Sadly, that's the argument made by too many whites today, that they have nothing to do with racism, that black and brown people have more rights than they do, that they need to get over it, especially if all they're going to do is burn everything down. This continues to be the dividing sentiment of the day.
Thankfully my wife works for Kidpower and I'm so glad that Kidpower community reminded me of their commitment to safety and justice for all:
At Kidpower, we believe that everyone has the right to safety, respect, peace, and justice. We are heartbroken about the suffering and tragedy caused by racist attacks and discrimination against people of color in our communities, at our borders, and around the world. We will continue to speak out and take action to protect and empower all people.
Yes, continue to speak out and take action to protect and empower all people. Always.
But then I also keep thinking about the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote someone posted on my Facebook wall that ended:
Riot is the language of the unheard.
I am privileged. I am biased. I am white. I am male.
I empathize. I sympathize. I fight the good fight.
Everyone has the right to safety, respect, peace, and justice.
I hope that Minneapolis police officer is prosecuted and locked up for the rest of his life, and that the officers who were with him are arrested as well.
I'm tired of the commentary that includes, "Well, I don't like what happened to that black man, but I don't agree with violent protests."
I don't agree with them either; our family has been a part of many peaceful protests. Those committing the current violence in our communities and looting and destroying businesses should also be held accountable. So many business were already on the brink of bankruptcy because of COVID-19. And one of my employees and his wife and family live not more than a mile from the violence in Minneapolis.
My sister was also a police officer for many years, and we both still have friends and family who are in law enforcement, good people who's lives are now in danger.
But, imagine being subjected to 400+ years of institutionalized systemic racism and violence. Of being afraid of walking down the street and being harassed by the police because you're a black or brown male.
Then imagine bringing a bazooka or an assault rifle into a sandwich shop or a state's capital building. Of law enforcement not doing a thing about it because you can, and because you're white.
I want to be part of positive change. I don't want my city burned down.
I empathize. I sympathize. I fight the good fight.
And I miss my mom and dad. I miss talking with them about life and current events that affect us all, even if we didn't always agree on them. Our girls didn't get a chance to know them like I wanted them too, since they were so young when my parents passed away.
What we did agree on was the fact that positive change starts with our children and grandchildren. That we should teach them compassion, empathy, forgiveness, inclusion and understanding. All these things can lead to grace, a new normalcy desperately needed today.