I’ll be heading down to Anaheim later today, to represent my client The National Road Safety Foundation at a conference. I’ve been to this group’s conference several times over the years, but this year it is likely to be overshadowed by an air of sadness.
The group is NASRO – the National Association of School Resource Officers. School resource officers – SROs – are police officers assigned to work in our schools. They’re not there for security or enforcement, but more as teachers and mentors and in many cases big brothers or father figures for the kids.
My client is involved because many of the SROs use the driver safety programs that we develop and distribute free of charge. And every year we honor an outstanding officer, as we’ll do again on Wednesday.
I’ve gotten to know many of the men and women who serve as SROs. I’ve sat in some of the seminars and training sessions, and I’ve heard many first-hand stories of what police officers are up against every time they put on their uniforms. One of the riskiest things they do, I’ve heard them say, is the seemingly routine traffic stop. Every time they approach a car they’ve stopped, they don’t know what will be awaiting them as the window rolls down.
The vast majority of police interactions with the public go smoothly, especially considering circumstances can often be tense or hostile. But sometimes things can go horribly wrong, as we’ve been hearing about in the news too frequently. We need to remember, though, that the vast majority of cops are good people trying to do their job serving and protecting us.
The terrible tragedy in Dallas is fraught with irony. Here were people protesting – peacefully – what they feel is an atmosphere prejudicial to people of color. Dallas police were on hand to protect those people and their freedom to express themselves. And one bad person turned the peace into a scene of targeted carnage, aimed specifically at those pledged to keep us safe.
I was impressed with comments made by the head of the NAACP, when he never uttered the phrase “police brutality.” Instead he said “police misconduct.” And he made it clear that the vast majority of law enforcement are good people doing their jobs well. The bad apples are just a few, just as the problems in neighborhoods of color are caused by a small number. We can’t taint an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.
Watching the news here in L.A. yesterday, I saw the L.A.P.D. chief trying to keep it together as he addressed a class of new officers at their graduation from the police academy. I also saw rapper Snoop Dogg come to City Hall to speak with the mayor and police chief, not in anger but in sympathy and support in hopes of opening a dialogue so both sides could better understand each other. To me, that’s a much more productive approach than marching in and angrily making demands and calling for heads to roll.
So as I head to the SRO conference later today, I go with a sense of sadness. But it’s also with a sense of hope. I know these men and women. I’ve seen how much they endure and yet still do whatever they can to be there when we need them.
But now, we all are right to feel sad and angry. The sadness won’t disappear, but the anger will eventually dissipate and hopefully a productive dialogue will replace it.