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  • By Lt. Tim McMillan

To Respectfully Dislike The Bridge To Equality

Dear xxxxxx,

I am not entirely sure what was the reasoning behind why you decided to message me. It is unfortunate that you didn’t desire to discuss your concerns with me. Because you indicated, you wish to be a part of the solution in repairing a damaged world. Please understand, I am by no means suggesting that I am a solution to repairing the damaged world, nor that it is necessary to like me to make a positive difference. However, what does concern me is that you said you wanted to be a part of the solution, yet the moment you saw what you considered to be a problem (me) you ran away. So as someone who legitimately desires also to make a positive difference in this world, I have to ask you, how can anyone repair anything if we run away from the problems? Trust me when I say, I am asking you this sincerely. Because if you know of a way to go about creating positive change in this world by avoiding the problems, you could save me a whole lot of stress and headaches.

Now, there is no need to discuss it with me. However, I want to bring up two important points in your message. Honestly, I think these points are important enough that all of us should consider them.

First, I believe that it is serendipitous you brought up the word “bridge” in both of your messages to me. Quite often we discuss “bridging the gap” when we talk about resolving the conflict between differing positions that are in disagreement with each other. That is in fact, an excellent analogy if you consider it. Anytime, something is separated by a barrier it indeed requires some bridge to overcome the barrier. Specifically, in your message, these two conflicting positions would be the police and the community. Interestingly, the police are the community, and the community is the police. However, you are correct, in many regards, there is a disconnect or barrier between the police and the community.

Before one can figure out how to build a bridge, one must first determine what barrier it is they desire to cross. Examining, the police and community breach, there is a multitude of obstacles. This is inherent because there is a myriad of different experiences, beliefs, and opinions that people can have. When you begin to examine all of the intricacies involved in the gap between officers and citizens you start to feel overwhelmed and think that ultimately there is no way one could ever build a bridge to cross this gap.

Now, from someone who has dedicated a large part of his life over the last seven months to trying to figure out how to build a bridge between different groups of people, let me say that I have realized that indeed it is impossible to build a bridge to overcome the gaps between opposing groups. It is impossible because it isn’t necessary to build a bridge. The bridge already exists. Yes, you read that correctly, the bridge already exists.

Don’t feel bad, you have found yourself in the position that a lot of people have found themselves in when they have stumbled across me. I never needed to bridge any gaps for you. You already had a positive impression of law enforcement. In essence, the bridge you wanted me to build was for others, not yourself. Additionally, you probably felt that bridge could be further built on and solidified by sharing heartwarming stories of the police saving puppies or playing basketball with the youth. You wanted me to tell the story that got me here in the first place, over and over, just change the details a little each time.

However, you probably found yourself in a position you didn’t want to be in. Suddenly, you figured out that “bridging the gap” actually meant you would have to cross some barriers. Moreover, you realized that indeed the bridge exists already, however, it is not necessarily a safe and friendly bridge that one eagerly wants to cross.

In fact, the bridge to reconciliation between people is a frightening and challenging bridge. To travel it, one has to be willing to confront truths that they have repressed. In reality, we often already know the obstacles that exist on this bridge. We may pretend we don’t or we may try to diminish them by saying that don’t occur at all. In reality, we know that there is a historical mistreatment of minorities in America. Moreover, we also know that prejudice, and an inherent cultural difference towards minorities continues to endure.

Now, we try to tell ourselves things like, “Yeah, slavery was bad, but it was like 100 years ago. Nobody today ever owned a slave, and there isn’t any widespread racism in modern day America. If minorities don’t want to be viewed as (insert stereotype), then they should stop engaging in (insert stereotypical behavior).” Honestly, we say these types of things because we are scared. See, fear is the dominant force that keeps us from crossing this bridge. We are afraid that if we acknowledge certain ugly truths, then suddenly we may have to face our shortcomings and our disregard for the persistence of immorality within our society. By recognizing these realities, it becomes apparent that we have in some way been complicit by our willful ignorance.

Now, the next fear is typically an unconscious one. However, it honestly is the most significant of our fears. It is the fear that the way of life we are accustomed to will suddenly change. Suddenly, the cultural identity of America will resemble something that appears foreign. In essence, America will become more colorful in all aspects, and that frightens a lot of people. As I said, this fear is predominately an unconscious fear, because we don’t recognize it for what it is. Rather, we just realize that America would feel “changed.” As with most aspects of life, even when change ends up meaning an improvement, most people are often resistant to the unknowns that can come with a change in the beginning.

To actually bridge this gap, it requires one to learn the historical origins of certain things and acknowledge their existence. For example, it is easy to only just drive on by and never put a second thought into the fact that 70% of minorities live in inner cities. Meanwhile 86% of White Americans live in the suburbs. It is easy, to fail to realize that there is indeed a historical and unethical reason for this demographic disparity. It is a result of something called, “Blockbusting.”

Blockbusting involves an unethical and greed fueled practice by real estate developers beginning in the early 1950’s. Real estate developers would instill fear of minorities to White people living in inner cities to encourage “White Flight” to the suburbs. Developers would scare White Americans into selling their inner city homes for cheap, and in turn, the homes would be resold to minorities at a profit. Of course, the developers had lovely new, more expensive homes in the recently sprawling suburban development communities. It was a win/win for these immoral developers who cared only about their self-indulgence in financial gain. Ultimately, this practice went on, up into the early 1980’s, and was responsible for creating the modern urban ghetto. Additionally, the byproduct of selling fear of minorities to encourage Whites to move was the ingrained cultural view of Black America being “scary.”

Once you understand historical contexts like these, suddenly you have gained some wisdom into how many of the racial problems in society have emerged. Additionally, it also challenges some of the preexisting beliefs that one may have. Ultimately, these are the steps one has to take to cross this bridge to reach a place in which we can overcome inequality. These steps provide one with understanding, compassion, and the willingness to overcome our torrid past. When one is unwilling to take these steps, no legitimate attempt at crossing the bridge can ever occur.

In essence, all happy-go-lucky puppy stories do is make people feel good. However, they don’t ever inspire actual change. To that, we must have the willingness and most importantly the courage to want actually to want to change. Unfortunately, often that requires use to accept heartbreak to be motivated into action. Truthfully, in this regard, I understand why you don’t want to cross this bridge. In an empathetic sense, a part of me doesn’t blame you.

Because I know what it is like to cross this bridge. At times it isn’t at all fun and can be downright depressing. Whenever you take on the endeavor of learning the pain of others, you end up taking a piece of that pain and hardship with you. Over the months, I’ve carried a lot of the pain of others not just African Americans, but immigrants, Muslims, the LGBT community, women, the impoverished, and disenfranchised. Understand, these hardships only add to my own, so it is not as if I get some reprieve for my willingness to reach out.

However, we all have to make a choice in life sometimes. When is something important enough that you are willing to endure hardship for what is morally and ethically right? When do you decide something is worth stepping onto that scary bridge and no matter what just keep looking forward and believe you can reach the other side? For me, this is that important. It is that important to try to seek and spread the truth of peace. Even when initially it can appear to be the truth of suffering. I will tell you if you keep your head up for long enough, eventually you will reach a place of fearlessness. It is in this fearlessness that suddenly you also can find peace.

Which, brings me to my last topic in response to your messages. At the end of your last message, you said, “I have nothing but respect for you as a police officer and the risk you take daily for public safety.” Honestly, do you? I mean, it’s easy to say that, and truthfully it comes across as a canned phrase you feel you are supposed to say. In essence, to express the opposite would be inappropriate. However, do you really respect me as a police officer? Because a police officer can be a lot of things. In fact, I’ve met a lot of people who held the title of police officer. However, I did not respect who they were. Ultimately, who they are defined them, and they didn’t suddenly become respectful because of the uniform.

It's ok to say you don’t respect me. You don’t have to feel compelled to say you respect me as a police officer because being a police officer and who I am, are not mutually exclusive of each other. Whether I am willing to confront a gunman or take the time to talk to troubled youths, the motivations and desires are still the same. I want to make the world a better place. To me, serve and protect, means to serve humanity as a whole and to protect all that is righteous in this world. That can be from a Facebook page, speaking to people, or on the street while in a police uniform. Regardless, I am still just standing in the middle of this scary bridge, trying to help people get across to the other side.

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