Dear Police Departments

Please do not unduly resist change. Certainly do not do so thinking that those objecting to the status quo are a vocal minority comprised solely of fringe activists, marginalized individuals, and die-hard anarchists.

I don’t exactly fit the mold. I’m forty, white, male, straight, centrist, and agnostic. I don’t reliably vote for any specific party. I have never been arrested. I benefit from and appreciate the virtues of capitalism (while fearing its excesses). I spent over a decade working as a civilian in the US Intelligence Community before leaving for more entrepreneurial activities and am a career Security Professional.

I believe a good police force is integral to the proper functioning of society but that our current system-of-systems is deeply flawed. I understand that being a police officer involves split-second decisions in life-or-death situations and know that everyone makes mistakes but worry that we are doing things to amplify the likelihood and severity of bad outcomes. I believe that the men and women in blue represent a continuum of individuals and that the All Cops Are Bastards narrative is as untrue as it is unhelpful yet also feel we are not adequately holding bad actors to account.

On a very personal level I remember and resent the scorn directed at the IC in the wake of the Snowden revelations by non-experts who did not understand how complicated and difficult the job was, but also appreciate that there were important conversations for the nation to have about the tensions between freedom and security.

All that said, I am very much not okay either with what I’ve seen in recent weeks or the larger historical sweep of events that it represents at every level of our government and society.

I had not been tear-gassed until Saturday 30 May when I stepped out in front of my home in Columbus on E Russell St to observe the commotion of riot police herding disorganized and injured protesters off of High St. My next time would be shortly thereafter when, like a rookie, I would shower carelessly and badly burn my eyes through secondary exposure.

Just hours earlier behind my house I had witnessed a near-catastrophe when terrified protesters flirted with the idea of fleeing en masse across I-670 to get away from police. In the fullness of time I now appreciate the eerie similarity this moment bears to the now notorious events in Philadelphia along a highway embankment. These are not isolated incidents.

I have never felt less safe in Columbus than when police were showing up in riot gear in my neighborhood. And that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the need for that manner of force existing and sometimes being deployed. But a hyper-militarization of a broad swath of our police forces and a lack of patience and empathy for peaceful protesters courts disaster, undermines democracy, and deprives municipalities of the resources they need to efficiently solve problems at their root causes using tools well matched to the jobs at hand.

Now rewind five years and I’m living in downtown Baltimore and experiencing in a very direct and scary way the Freddie Gray riots. The horrors of Freddie Gray’s death were just as real as those of George Floyd even though they were not captured so spectacularly. Now fast forward back to the present and this city that I love continues to struggle in no small part because the reforms were too trivial and the police were not fully committed to the cause.

What are we going to do differently this time so we don’t perpetuate the nightmare indefinitely and allow our standing in the world inexorably to diminish? Our neighborhoods are not a battle space to dominate and we cannot afford to continue mortgaging our future with band-aid solutions. I see productive conversations coalescing across the country at the municipal level and I implore police officers at all levels to get on the right side of history.

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