COP Crucial Conversation: Civil Disagreeing that Matters

A few, I was at the Burien Library to pick up some awesome books when I struck up conversation with the officer who was on duty. (Yes, there is a police officer stationed at the Burien Library, which in itself may pose all kinds of interesting questions or at least say something about the neighborhood. Alas, the purpose of this post is not to dig into those questions or answers.) It began like many of my conversations do, first asking about how he was doing, and how he liked his work. The officer, we'll call him Vince, answered with a passion that I found intriguing, so the conversation went deeper. Vince and I have very different views on several things, but we also found some common ground. I'll lay out a bit about each of our vantage points, and First, a little about Vince.

Vince is a police officer as well as NRA member and former marine. He sees weapons as tools, serving a primary purpose of protection. He's a Christian, and sees his job as part of his calling to serve Christ and the community. The way he sees it, systems of law enforcement are part of what keeps evil at bay. He sees use of fatal force as a last resort measure, and conversation and de-escalation as an officer's primary tools. He's been shot at abroad and stateside, and has survived some very close calls. Part of our conversation included story after story of different situations he has lived, and it was informative to get an officer's perspective on even routine situations like pulling someone over. "You never know if someone is hiding a gun, so you have to be prepared for any situation but read what is happening live and respond accordingly." Vince also was really irritated with the bad rap that cops get, pointing out that "a few bad apples ruin the whole bunch." We talked about Furgason, about how much work cops do that doesn't involve guns, and how biased media coverage can be. He really wanted to leave me with the impression that cops aren't bad guys, and though there are crooked cops and the system is imperfect, there are way more great officers working for the good of their communities.

A bit about me: I'm not a cop, don't have (or care for) guns, and believe that one of the big components of living with and following Jesus is living his way of shalom (non-violence). I see systems of law enforcement as at-best regrettably necessary, thinking these systems say more about our immaturity as a collective rather than the way things should be. I can't in good conscience end a human life, and take increasing issue with the way we end human and non-human life already. I have family and friends that are police officers and gun owners, so this conversation doesn't only reflect ideals but real people. I have never been shot at, though I have been in some very tense situations that I have de-escalated. One of my big concerns is that programming (training/conditioning) or projection (the mental baggage a person brings to a situation) would drive officers to make decisions that are ultimately unhelpful. I wanted to leave Vince with the impression that the way he inhabits his role is crucial, both to be change within the system for good as well as in the community. I encouraged him to listen to Jesus, and if there were ever a conflict between his conscience and the party line, I hoped he would make the right choice. I told him that labels can be dangerous, even the labels of "thief" and "perpetrator" can work to dehumanize in executing a rule of law, and that's a concern for me. Not that we let go of law, but that we maintain a constant awareness of the human. F*** the police is a copout, and so is criminalizing someone based on their circumstances or the color of their skin. 

We both agreed that we want to see people, and situations as they are. That includes cops. We both want neighborhoods to be safe. We both want to love God and people. We both read the Scriptures and seek to orient our lives on what God and our faith tradition show us. The conversation concluded with us each realizing that while we hadn't changed our basic viewpoints, having a deep, personal and engaging conversation had an impact. I was reminded of my own capacity to dismiss people that are "part of the system," while I was judging others for doing the same thing. It was a great opportunity for us to examine our own biases (the planks in our eyes) and to be challenged and sharpened by another. Not only that, but I left feeling that I had made a friend. I haven't seen Vince since, but I'm ever-so-grateful to him for our conversation. I believe that one of the huge needs we have as a society is to engage in this kind of effective disagreement. Working for solutions doesn't come by forcing agreement, but by working together in the midst of disagreement and building common ground.

To close, here are some questions for whoever feels game to engage:

  • What crucial conversations have you had lately?
  • What is your thinking related to violence and the use of force?
  • How would you describe the purpose of law enforcement?
  • What are some areas that you want to work for good, and what does that require?

Excited to share, knowing the conversation was not done justice. Thanks for reading!

Benjamin FaderComment