Monday, December 22, 2014

An Open Letter to the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association

(...and the police departments of Cleveland and St. Louis, I guess, too.)

Dear officers of the law,

I want to assure you, and reassure you, and reassure you, and reassure you that those of us who have been calling for justice for people like Eric Garner and Akai Gurley (as well as Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Amadou Diallo, et al) are not anti-police.  We're not against you.  I realize you may not believe me when I say it, but it is true.  Promise.

I'm not against you.  If you're investigating something and you think my input will help you do that, I will answer your questions.  And if I break the law, you should arrest me.

I want you to be able to do your jobs.  Lord knows that your gigs are already difficult and dangerous enough as it is.  You're often underpaid and overworked, and you understandably count on wall-to-wall public support for you to do your job.

I just want you to be able to do your job better than has been done by some of your peers in the deaths of the names I just listed.

I have all the sympathy in the world for you when you are actively putting yourselves in harm's way to make your communities safer.  I have prayed for the families of your two fallen comrades, Officer Wenjian Liu and Officer Rafael Ramos, and I *know* that their killer--whose name does not merit mention here--escaped man's justice but not God's justice.

But while my prayers will forever remain intact, my sympathy is another matter.  Honestly, it's hard for me to keep my sympathy when you're lashing out at your critics and, essentially, calling them murderers.

You're in law enforcement--you know what a singularly weighty accusation that is, right?  To say that someone has blood on their hands?  First, that's pretty rich considering Officer Daniel Pantaleo literally used his hands and arms to strangle Eric Garner to death.  But secondly, it's an idiom with which you're saying that someone is culpable of murder.

You may not like Bill De Blasio, and that's fine, but that doesn't make him a cop killer.

And full disclosure: I have no proverbial dog in the spat between New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and the NYPD.  I'm not a New Yorker, and I don't have strong feelings about De Blasio either way.  I'm not being partisan here because when it comes to your mayor, I'm not--I'm the exact opposite of partisan: completely apathetic.

So as someone without a previously vested interest in your relationship with your mayor, can I just say that your unions' leaders' reactions are costing you sympathy.  I'm not trying to be inflammatory by saying this, I'm trying to be truthful and thoughtful with you.

And because of this, I want to talk to you a little bit from the perspective of being a pastor, and before I do, I want to add the disclaimer that I know our jobs are not remotely the same in terms of the physical danger we put ourselves in.  But it is pretty similar in terms of the PR crises we have had to endure.  I belong to a profession that has had untold numbers of scandals, all of them as damning as the murders of Michael Brown or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice.  Were people in my profession...

Pedophiles?  Check.

...Protectors of said pedophiles?  Uh huh.

Crooks who were defrauding congregants?  Yep.

Deathmongers who killed people?  Unfortunately, horribly, painfully, yes.

And I want nothing to do with them.  They go over the side of the boat.   They get no defense from me.  I quote my colleague and dear friend Meghan on this:

As a pastor, I am able to admit that there are some really bad clergy out there and a lot who have done terrible, terrible things to children and other vulnerable people. I don't defend them or feel personally attacked when others criticize them... I would like to think that if I were a police officer (and I thank God that I am not and I thank God that others are willing to perform that duty) that I would be able to have some modicum of objectivity to recognize the bad apples and what to (do to) get them out...I'm really disturbed by false binary being promoted that one can *only* be upset by the deaths of unarmed black people OR by the deaths of police and if you are upset about one you must hate the other. I'm upset about them all. Unnecessary deaths are unnecessary deaths. They are terrible and we should all be upset about them all.

The thing is though, none of that matters for people who understandably don't want to trust me simply because I am a pastor.  And because I am called to be humble and not haughty, I don't get to just scream "You're wrong," I have to listen with a quiet presence to peoples' grievances against the clergy.

So now, I have to go through continual ethics and boundaries training--if I don't, my standing as an ordained minister gets automatically revoked by my denomination, which would basically make it impossible for me to get a job.  In other words, I go through these accountability checks on the threat of my employability and livelihood being taken away if I don't.

I'll repeat that: thanks to abusive clergy, now in order to lose my employability, I just have to not attend a particular seminar.

Just like you, I didn't do anything wrong, either.  I'm a model citizen who has never gotten anything more than parking tickets.  But because a few bad apples in my line of work royally hurt their fellow people, I now have to saddle up and take my bitter medicine like the adult I am, not like a temperamental two-year-old who is lashing out because daddy said to play nicely with the other humans.

And yet, despite all this, I still love what I do.  I'm sure you feel the same way about your own job and your dedication to its highest principles.

I guess what I'm asking you is...why can't you also uphold those highest principles of your profession by not protecting the cops who are abusive, just like I don't stand for pastors who are abusive?  Because those abusive bad apples are there, even if you're in denial about it.  Having a judge and a lawyer for parents has exposed me to way too much of the underbelly of our legal system for me to pretend otherwise, long before where we are today.

Believe me, I SO get that you still feel like you're under critique from all directions now.  I take it on the chin from both directions too: from atheists who are mindless devotees of mean-spirited scrooges like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris who think that what I preach is an irrational plague upon this earth, and from more conservative Christians who think that what I preach is a false Gospel and heresy because I support marriage equality and believe that evolution and Genesis are compatible.  Even with a thick skin, it can wear you down.

And I don't think I have to tell you any of this--you know full well what it is like to have insults hurled at you when you're arresting someone difficult or instigating, or to be called a pig out on the street when you're just doing your job.  It's an annoyance at best, but it still sucks to experience.

I have to accept all of this because, like you, the work I do is inherently public.  Every Sunday morning at 11:00 am, I put on the robe and the stole, and I preach words that are recorded and posted, that sometimes will upset someone, and that sometimes, honestly, will land me in a spot of bother every now and again.

So pretty please, let's get a grip here with the inflammatory accusations about blood and hands, yeah?  Wanting police officers to do your jobs better--and right now, I'll just settle for not summarily executing twelve-year-old boys as a starting point--doesn't make us anti-police anymore than wanting any profession to do their jobs better.

People want me and my ilk to our jobs better?  Good, they ought to expect us to.

God forbid we shouldn't expect the same from ourselves.

That's all. Thanks for reading, and merry Christmas.

Yours in Christ,

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