The Lion Outside
By H. K. Slade
Note: 2020 as a year has just been a garbage fire, particularly for police officers. This was an article I wrote after a friend of mine told me about how upset his wife was by an anti-police message someone wrote on her Facebook page. The article was intended to help her and those like her, but as I wrote it, I realized there is a lot of common ground here for all people. This article is, I believe, is just as applicable for a BLM supporter as it is for a LEO supporter... or anyone suffering from fear. This was originally published in Calibre Press 9/18/2020
I haven’t written an article about police work in a while. It’s been a tough year for the profession. I try my best not to gripe and complain, and there are already people out there stating our case far more eloquently than I can. The reason I am writing this now is because I had something of a revelation recently, and I thought it might help at least a few of my brothers and sisters out there who are struggling like I am.
The source of my frustration, if I had to narrow it down to just one thing, is that I know firsthand that police officers out there are doing an amazing job at great sacrifice to help total strangers of all races, ages, religious, and backgrounds. The people demanding social “justice” have a very limited view of police work, and generally have little interest in gaining any knowledge or perspective that doesn’t match the image they have constructed that makes their opposition to the police… heroic.
When someone tells me that it is undeniable that there is systemic racism in the criminal justice system against the African American community, my first question is, “How many times have you been involved in an interaction between a police officer and black man?” And the answer often is, “Well, I’ve heard from my friend…” or “I was in the car once and I saw…” or worst of all, “It’s all over the internet.” Much more credible to me is when someone is able to say, “I am a black man, and I’ve been dealing with police my whole life. I’ve been stopped a dozen times.” I can talk to that guy, take his concerns seriously. Even then, though, I can’t help but look at the average police officer (who might witness a dozen interactions between a police officer and a black man each and every day of his or her career) and think, “Who has the better sample set from which to draw conclusions?”
When you know firsthand that the vast, vast majority of police interactions are positive, it is hard to understand when someone wants to trash the entire system over one interaction out of a million. I don’t think anyone is arguing that there are bad cops out there. We are all human beings, and no one knows better than a cop that human beings can do horrible things. What that means is that any system, any system at all that has human beings in it, is going to have a certain percentage that is bad. If it is only just a percentage of a percentage point that needs to be fixed/removed, why would we turn our back on the whole system?
Here is were the revelation came for me.
See, morale is shot to hell. Cops, even good ones, are tired and disheartened. The temptation to give the protesters exactly what they want, to pull back and let it all burn, to let the whole country become a CHOP, is out there. Officers I used to know to be hard chargers are sitting the shift out, just answering 911 calls, and because of it, murder rates are skyrocketing across the country. When I ask these officers specifically what is bothering them, they often show me a post someone put on Facebook demanding that we defund the police. Or a comment someone wrote under their Blue Lives Matter banner that says “I love you, but…” Or a news article casting officers as villains during riots we know for a fact were started by some white kid in a black mask throwing a brick or lighting a fire.
But when I look at those posts, I see a hundred comments backing us. I have to scroll past pages and pages of supportive comments to get to the single negative one. Even the articles that call us villains are covered in comments calling us heroes and thanking us for our service. So why do we focus on the negative so much? Because of the same reason that someone can have a hundred positive interactions with a police officer and only focus on the one negative one; We are biologically programed to focus on our negative experiences.
Think about it. If a caveman got attacked by a lion one out of a hundred trips outside the cave, and then he promptly forgot about it, that’s probably a short-lived caveman. On the other hand, the caveman that couldn’t stop thinking about that one lion attack probably spent a lot of time sharpening sticks and making sure he had friends with him next time he went hunting. The first guy didn’t have a lot of kids, but the second made sure the whole family knew about the one time he got attacked by a lion. After a while, the lion became a pack of lions. And it wasn’t just the one attack, it was every time he stepped out of the cave. Before too long, it wasn’t just the lions out to get the caveman.
Everything outside the cave was trying to kill him all the time.
One comment, one post, means everyone is out to get us. Does this ring a bell with anyone? If it does, there is no need to feel bad. It’s biological. We focus on the negative. It’s how we are wired. And we can change it.
Just realizing what is going on in our heads is a huge first step. Next, do an honest inventory. It’s tough, but we are cops. We are used to looking for facts. Outside of protests and when we have to arrest someone, how do people react to us? I can’t even count how many people have told me, “Thank you for what you do.” My department receives notes of encouragement and care packages from churches and businesses and civic groups every single week. There are cards from kids posted up in every station. Then there is the Thin Blue Line flag flying in front of my neighbor’s house, the police memorial ride shirt I saw a stranger wearing yesterday, and so much more if you make a conscious effort to look for it.
The Final Step
The final step is simple math. Maybe there is a crappy picture up in city hall showing a little girl holding a picture of a police officer beating a black man. Does it suck to see that? Yes. Is it reflective of what the average person thinks of us? No. There were a dozen offers to buy an officer lunch last month that says it’s not. There are a hundred cards from little kids back at the station that says it’s not. There are a thousand quiet nods and handshakes and looks of respect last shift that says it’s not.
Remember that the vast majority of the country values what you do. Remember that to some little kid, you are a role model. Remember that to that victim you helped, you are a hero. Remember, in essence, what we would ask from someone who has had a bad interaction with a police officer; Don’t turn you back on the whole because a very small part is broken.
Be safe. Be happy. Be proud.