Op-ed by Rev. Michael Vaughn
While this is a new year there are still some old things that we need to deal with. There was an incident that occurred in the last few weeks regarding the Rochester Police Department (RPD) and the usage of pepper spray on a nine (9) year old girl. On the surface of this story, there is quite a cause to be made for intense anger against the police department. However, we need to ensure that we do not take a “knee jerk” reaction to everything that we hear reported. I realize that I am wading into some emotional waters, but please consider the title of this column, “Something to Think About”. Hear what I have to say and consider it and if you want to after that, throw it away. However, please don’t dismiss it out of hand because your emotions won’t let you. We will be forever a victim to our emotions and being manipulated by them if we don’t calm down and listen to all sides of an issue and then make rational decisions on what to do next.
The point of this article is not whether or not I believe that a nine (9) year old girl should be pepper sprayed but if the police were wrong in doing it and the community’s response to it. From what we have understood thus far, I’m sure that more will be coming out, is that the police officers acted within their training and according to the current police policies and procedures. Therefore, as a matter of right and wrong from a legal perspective and whether or not these officers should be suspended without pay or even fired should not even be up for discussion. If a police officer is following the policies that are currently in operation, we cannot charge them because we don’t like the optics or what / how the media and community want to make us feel. What has to happen is that we need to focus that emotional energy to get laws passed and policies changed. However, we have to make sure that we don’t do it as a punishment to the men and women that protect us in law enforcement, we do it as a response to processes and policies that need to be changed.
It is always a disappointment to me to see politicians, community activists and even members of the clergy be so quick to “throw the police department under the bus.” I am 100% supportive of removing rogue and “bad” officers from the police force however, I refuse to believe that the entire police force needs to be cast into such a horrific light because of bad cops or bad policies. I’d like these folks that are so quick to “hate on the police officers” to take the place of the officer in that situation and walk in it and let me know how you do. It is extremely easy to sit back and say what an officer should or shouldn’t have done; when it is over. However, in the moment decisions have to be made and they can be the difference between life and death, injury or someone walking away. Remember, > 90% of the calls that police officers get are to enter a situation where it is very volatile and it can go in a number of different ways. These officers are called upon to make extremely difficult decisions in the spur of the moment. I’m sure that as they make their decisions, they want to ensure that the perpetrator, the public and themselves can walk away unharmed. I will NEVER believe that law enforcement is out to intentionally hurt folks. Is there a small percentage that need to be removed and brought to justice, I’m sure? But we mustn’t be so disrespectful and dishonoring to our law enforcement officers as our current society is prone to be!
The RASE Commission has stood up last year to work on policies and procedures that need to be addressed. I said it then and I say it now, we need to review the policies and procedures, with the support and active involvement of the police department, in order to effect the change that is needed. Underneath the badge and uniform are men and women with families and a desire to do their jobs with excellence. Let’s stop allowing the media, politicians and activists to pit us (the public) against those called to serve and protect (the police officers). We can solve the issues facing us, if we do it together, instead of divided!
Rev. Michael is senior pastor of New Wineskin Church. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org