Op/Ed By Gloria Winston Al-Sarag
The reorganization of the Rochester Police Department can work, if we let it. The plan to put more police officers back to “walking the beat” will be a great beginning to restoring respect, and trust, for the officers who have been sworn to protect, and serve, our community.
First responders, whether they’ve represented the police department, fire department, or emergency medical technicians, have all done important jobs that we, as a community, have sometimes taken for granted. And, unfortunately, a few bad apples have sometimes gotten in the way.
Then, by the time the media has gotten through exposing the abuse, brutality, corruption, or other negative actions associated with police departments across America; we have found it easier to condemn the cops, rather than to accept that it has not been ALL police officers who have been engaged in the type of behavior which has given them a bad name.
Ignorance is easy to perpetuate, especially when emotions have become involved. And, these days, too many folks have been lazy by nature, relying on the media, especially social media, to give them their news. They’ve been the ones who’ve loved to instigate, and incite riots; relying on their ignorance to do their bidding.
It is important that we fact check for ourselves, as opposed to relying on others to give us their half-truths, which may then send us off and running, like we know something.
If enough alleged bank robbers, with black faces, have been portrayed in the media, someone ignorant will likely assume all black people rob banks. And, if enough black and Hispanic faces have been shown standing in welfare and food stamp lines, it will probably be easy for some folks to assume most minorities collect welfare; when, in fact, that is not true.
And, when violence erupts in the streets, and black faces have been the only ones people have seen on camera, it will be easy for some individuals to assume all black folks condone violent, or destructive, behavior.
There have been a number of stereotypes we’ve gone along with, and have been quick to assign to certain groups, or professions. And, seldom have we questioned their origins, or why we’ve use them, or believed them, in the first place.
The part of my heart which has been supportive of law enforcement, and all first responders, is not new.
As I have stated on several occasions, my mom used to be a cop. And, her experience, fortunately, brought me face to face with the “boys in blue,” frequently. It helped me grow to understand their culture, and I was fortunate enough to know many of the officers by name. Back in the days, the community seemed to have had more of a positive experience with the police, and the few bad experiences we may have had with one or two cops had not, in themselves, condemned the whole culture. Respect had been key, and mutual. I could not have imagined giving the police anything but the cooperation which had been called for in any situation. However, the bad attitudes and disrespect I have witnessed, as of late, have been unfortunate, and I think the issues need to be addressed.
A recent incident, and video, which surfaced in Brockport has been the best example of the kind of disrespect toward police which has bothered me lately. The incident involved the arrest of two teens, after an incident on a basketball court. The police had been called because the teens were intimidating younger kids, with cursing and other intimidating behavior, from what I could determine. Then, what appeared to have transpired next, once the police arrived, was that the teens had given the officers more mouth than needed, and vented their anger toward them, as opposed to cooperating with the police.
Subsequently, after what I considered to be an unfortunate exchange of words, the teens had been arrested. And, all of this, mind you, was caught on video. Yet, the spin the media had taken, later, showed a video of the father of one of the teens blasting the arrest of his son. The father had condemned the actions of the police, but, at no time had he addressed the bad attitude of his son, which was caught on camera.
I sat there wondering whether the dad had even watched the video, which clearly depicted his son’s disrespect toward the police. It was that point, which solidified for me, the fact that, being a police officer would never have been, and should never have been, one of my career moves, because; if anyone’s kid had talked to me like I heard those teens address the police, I would have been tempted to smack them in their mouths with my night stick. There’s no doubt about it.
The incident brings me to my point. I am NOT saying there aren’t some BAD cops, but we can’t allow those cops to overshadow, or cause us to disrespect, those who are NOT bad. When I was a card-carrying member of the “Black Panther Party for Self Defense,” one of my duties, as section leader, had been to teach people their rights, which included what to do and how to act, when and if you had been stopped by the police.
Everything I’d taught began and ended with respect. Whether you’d felt you had been racially profiled, and stopped for no reason, or not.
You have to GIVE respect, in order to get it, in return. Again, I am NOT condoning the BAD cops. I believe they need to be identified, and taken off the streets. But, again, I will reiterate the fact that, all cops are not bad.
Hopefully, the reorganization of the Rochester Police Department will seek to develop the kinds of positive relationships we sorely need, in order to repair the damage which has been done, in terms of our relationships with the police.
I can’t imagine a society without them. I have no desire to live in a society where gunslingers rule.
It seems as if “Officer Friendly” may need to return to the classrooms of our young folks, or knock on some doors just to say “Hi” to those they have been sworn to protect, and serve. Relationships are NOT transferable, but, relationships (the ones which have been built on a positive note) are key when it comes to teaching others to respect, and appreciate, the job police officers do. Their lives have been on the line in our communities EVERY day. We have come and gone in peace, taking for granted the fact that we have been safe because of them.
I trust that the naysayers, if they ever get into trouble and find a need for them, will be the first to dial 9-1-1, and beg for help.
The reorganization plan will be a good thing.
In my opinion, it will take us back to a time, and place, that used to exist. One which existed when I was a kid in this community.
Sometimes, it’s healthy to go back, and revisit those things which had never been broken to begin with, even though some genius decided they needed to be fixed anyway.
Sooner or later, the busing of school kids downtown will also stop, and we will return them to being bused into their own neighborhoods. It will be much like when wisdom prevailed, and Clinton Ave. and Saint Paul St. were returned to allowing two-way traffic; the way things USED to be.
There is hope for us all, and I BELIEVE the reorganization plan can make a difference, but, only if we ALL give it a chance, and recognize the police are NOT our adversaries. We should know each police officer assigned to our neighborhoods on a first-name basis, and the police should know, personally, WHO they are serving, as well. Respecting the police will get you more respect than not.