Police whom I love and care about, I need you to hear something from me.
Your job is hard, and I (we all) know that. We know how dangerous it can be, and we are taught as children that you are heroes. We know you take an oath to serve and protect, and put your life on the line in many situations. I agree that your heroism should be celebrated and that your choice to engage in such a high risk profession should be commended and valued. The overwhelming majority would also agree with these statements as they are evident. Police are and have always been valued and cherished members of society, in general.
You are in all our kids books and are a popular dress up costume, you are a favorite on Career Day and a staple at parades and community gatherings. You are a standard field trip in elementary grades and are regularly glorified for your good deeds and heroism in newspapers,TV shows, and movies. People in most situations clap for you and applaud your service, as they should, for those of you doing it right! Of course you get shit on sometimes, too, but generally speaking you are seen by the mainstream as heroes.
Some of you (and your families/friends) have taken to saying the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” and I think (hope) you are doing it because of a confusion or a misunderstanding about the original Black Lives Matter movement.
Because I love you and I support you, I want you to hear from me so you may have better clarity on why this phrase is seen as hurtful and demeaning to those presently fighting in these civil rights protests. I am not throwing insults or being unkind, I am only explaining.
We can see that both groups of people, people of color and police officers experience prejudice, hateful comments, and danger because of their ‘colors’. Both groups try to go about their lives and support their communities by doing the best they can. Both groups experience dangerous scenarios, unfair stereotypes, unsupported targeting, and physical attacks based on ‘color.’
But here is the key:
Your ‘blue’ is a choice, a uniform. It is a job, that although I know you take seriously and believe in, is also one that you chose willingly and that you can walk away from at any time. This does not mean it is easy or without significant risks! But, if the pressures of the job become such that you no longer wish to be subjected to them, or you just don’t like the prejudices and attacks against police, or you’re just sick of the responsibilities it entails, you can remove the uniform at any time, get a new job, and no one would know you were ever ‘blue’ if you chose to keep it a secret. If you simply needed a day off from policing, you could put in a request, take off the uniform, and choose not to be ‘blue’ for a while. Every thing about ‘being blue’ is a choice.
Black and brown people cannot remove their black and brown skin. They do not choose to wear it each day or to accept the dangers it brings to them. They cannot take a day off, and they cannot choose a new color if the prejudices against them become too much to handle. They cannot put in a request for a new color or avoid the racism, biases, and prejudices that accompany their black and brown skins. This is not a choice for them. It isn’t voluntary, and though they are and should be proud of their skin, being black/brown is never something they can escape, not even for a day (nor should they have to).
So we know your lives matter as officers, just like ‘all lives matter.’ It is a given, it is implicit, and it is supported by our laws and by our society at large. But, Black lives have not been shown to matter in the same way as other lives (for hundreds of years, though more recently it’s been brought into focus for many) by society, and certainly not by a multitude of police officers. It is why they are crying out for help, for support, and for acknowledgement that they do in fact matter, as much as any other human life. They are saying that their lives are being undervalued at the moment and have been for centuries. They are saying that their lives are not being afforded the justice they deserve when their lives are taken from them.
It isn’t a competition to say one matters more than the other. It is a cry to say that one is falling through the cracks and being missed repeatedly. One is being ignored, brushed aside, and diminished. And the group that is struggling to be seen and heard, struggling to matter in the eyes of the world right now, isn’t the police.
It’s okay to be an awesome police officer and say that what’s happening and being brought to light is abominable. You can and should say that it is shameful and a disgrace to the badge and the many honorable officers who wear it. You can say, “Here are things that I personally do to combat racism or police brutality in my department... Here are the things that I do to create a space for others to bring their concerns to my attention within my unit... Here are the things I personally am working to change or improve in my station.” You could say, “I think our team of officers is a standup group, but we are willing to listen to changes or pushes in order to help us grow and be better.” You could say, “We are disgusted by what we saw and we will work to ensure that it never happens among us because we will do x, y, and z to ensure no one feels powerless to speak up if they do encounter a similar situation.”
I think there’s a lot you could say, but simply saying Blue Lives Matter... feels like a retort, like a slap, like a one up, like you are disregarding entirely the call for help from your community members of color. Like you are further professing that Black lives do not matter in the way that other lives do.
I love you all, I support you, and I sincerely hope this helps even one if you to think about these types of posts a little differently. I don’t think it was ever your intention, but I do see how it presents negatively during the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s not (or at least it shouldn’t be) a fight between the groups, but instead one where you listen and lift each other up towards what is right and move towards “better” together.