If I were a police officer on duty, in any country, I know I would often be scared for my life. I would be worried that my handgun would not be enough, that my head and chest are often exposed. I would try and make myself seem as secure as possible. I would worry for my family if something should happen to me. I would also worry about what my family and I would feel if I were in the situation where I hurt or killed a citizen. I would want as much training and research as possible to not be in that situation.
But I would also be brave.
When I lived in East London September 9, 2001 through to 2003, I was there in a youth worker role. The community is mostly Bengali, Pakistani, Afghani, Indian, Muslim and Sikh. I was the only American around. It is a economically disadvantaged neighborhood on the far East End.
As a youth worker, once, I alone disarmed a young man I knew, getting him to put his large knife down at a heated moment of retaliation as he stormed in a rage down the street. Once, I pulled a 16-year-old from a burning, stolen car as his friends had left him there injured when they ran from the impending police. This was late at night and I was the only person there, locking up the building when I heard the crash and ran outside to help.
Twice, I held young men’s hands and wounds as they bled from knife injuries and waited for the ambulance.
Often, I worked with the police to report the thefts and drug sales these young guys were involved in.
I am 110-115 lbs and 5’1″ and only know what I know.
Every day, I trusted these same young men with equipment and musical instruments, with tasks to help me in the community center, and with my own body when playing football with them in the parking lot at night or in a leap during theatre/dance/writing workshops.
The neighborhood stayed relatively safe and these guys’ lives changed for the better (most eventually married, found jobs, grew more spiritual in their faith). As did mine. I was privileged, that is true, because it was a deep privilege to do this work and be a small part of their lives.
We did our jobs barehanded.
There I wasn’t brave. I simply was empathetic, open yet smart, curious and caring. Like my colleagues.
It didn’t matter that I was a White American and these were Muslim South Asian/Arab young men, and this was the aftermath of September 11th. Well, it did matter in one big sense: we trusted one other enough to listen and learn from one another about race and religion and theories on both ends.
In Chicago, the Ceasefire/Violence Interrupters do more than I ever did. They deal with the strong epidemic that is gun crime on our American city streets. Cure Violence is an amazing organization. They also go out unarmed into dangerous situations. In East London, there are no guns, so crime was restricted to knives.
And now I am in Egypt where all police officers on duty are men and are heavily armed with outdated weapons. They have been responsible for some real atrocities, killing thousands in the last few years, arresting and holding in mass without due process. They have shot down friends of friends. They have wounded those closest to me. I have been in the protests here 2011-2013, but when the police showed up it was always time for me to scram. And this week Egypt have put out a statement and video telling the U.S. police to show restraint. The police are not military, they remind us. Laughable.
Side Note: I have had the idea that the police would be much more effective in Egypt if they hired women to be on the beat and were more mixed in background. Same goes for America, come to think of it.
In Egypt, they are following the story of Ferguson. It feels so close to home.
We here watched the video of the police killing of Kajieme Powell in St. Louis, Missouri after Ferguson, and were brought to tears. This whole thing got me thinking about the training of police officers. I Googled training options in Missouri and found this:
“At the Law Enforcement Training Institute, we offer a Class A-certified 600-hour basic training academy that exceeds Missouri’s minimum requirements for peace officer certification. You receive real-life, hands-on training — from how to protect yourself, to how to take notes, to how to conduct an arrest. You learn practical application of law enforcement techniques as well as gain access to certifications not typically provided in other academies’ basic POST-approved courses.”
A peace officer? Not sure if that is intentional or a typo, but I love it.
I have been increasingly horrified by UN Peacekeepers who have been perpetrators in sex trafficking, by the so-called Peace Walls that keep peace by separating peoples for decades, and other harmful peace initiatives. Sometimes peace-related activities truly suck.
But right now, the concept of a peace officer feels so needed.