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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Columns

Despite police brutality, not all cops are pigs


Richie Miller, left, and his daughter Alana. Formative experiences in his youth caused Richie to become a police officer and foster change within law enforcement and in his community. | Courtesy of Richie Miller

Growing up, my dad was that guy. I spent a ton of my time with him as a kid — he was funny, played with me like he was still six years old himself, and he taught me the value of challenging work.

Whether he knows it or not, my drive comes from seeing Richie Miller challenge himself in his career and try to do his best not only for himself, but his family as well.  His presence made me feel safe, and I always knew he loved me.

But as I grew older and progressed through middle school, I began to really notice people’s fascination with my father’s career. Honestly, it was weird.

For some, my dad’s career and background became a common topic of conversation. I could not wrap my mind around why the fact that he was a police officer scared some of my classmates, especially those of color.

As a kid, I grew up on a street and neighborhood filled with officers, so naturally I was at ease with law enforcement. When Trayvon Martin was killed during my freshman year in high school, that was the first time I had heard the term police brutality. Up until that point, the word “police” evoked feelings of protection.

I thought officers were the good guys, on the straight and narrow, but feelings of confusion about my father’s profession began to brew. That warmth was being threatened. I began to hear classmates express distrust and, sometimes, valid disdain toward those in blue. Even I became a little anxious about interacting with officers, especially those who weren’t my father or neighbor.

My father’s path into law enforcement results from a combination of factors, but it all started freshman year of high school. His school offered a course in law enforcement, which he enrolled in, and it piqued his interest in an interesting and complex career.

“My teacher saw my interest and encouraged me to consider the career,” he said.

By now, we all know that a problem exists in our country when it comes to race relations between police departments and the communities they serve. Bias was one of the many reasons my father became an officer.

“Back in Charlotte, North Carolina during the ’80s, I was in the 11th grade and some friends and I went to McDonald’s after school,” my dad said. “There was a fight at a middle school that we knew nothing to do with.”

“We wanted to eat. The police pull up, put us in the trunk of my car and patted us down. We were respectful, but they didn’t care.”

He was blessed enough to not only learn about being an officer in the classroom, but also interact one-on-one with law enforcement in casual environments. Through family friends who were current officers, he received sound advice and guidance about how he could effectively be an officer.

“They told me get involved in (law enforcement), and don’t treat people like you were treated, and don’t let those around you treat others how you were treated,” he said.

For 24 years, he’s been doing just that: Being an officer and giving back in the community he serves by guiding budding officers in their career path, hoping to shape them into top-notch protectors. He did not allow his experience to deter him from a career path. He utilized it to make changes in the career he loves.

I now know there is a difference between true officers of the law and individuals who abuse their power. Unfortunately, those lines are often blurry, creating not only a dangerous predicament not only for citizens but for officers themselves.

There is an ever-growing distrust and uneasiness around a profession that was intended for good.

In communities of color, especially the black community, scared parents engage in conversations with their children. One conversation focuses on how children, especially young men, will be perceived by officers.

I understand why these types of conversations are still common in the black community, but it’s extremely problematic.

Ingraining ideas of disgust into children’s heads, especially when it comes to those trained and sworn to protect, is equally as dangerous as concocting a world that gives kids a false sense of safety. Atrocious events have occurred, but that does not absolutely guarantee the same will happen to you or your child.

Instead, conversations should address not only the untimely deaths of people, but focusing on building positive relationships with officers.

“All law enforcement officers aren’t bad,” my dad told me. “There are a few who need to be dealt with, but don’t make sweeping generalizations of a whole profession, based on a select few.”

If we want our communities to build stable bridges with law enforcement like we say we do, it’s essential to take a step toward officers, not cower away from them, which ultimately amounts to quarantining ourselves. They are men and women who just so happen to put on blue uniforms every day.

I urge people to truly take the time to see the individual behind the badge. I want my dad and his fellow officers to again be considered compassionate people and change the tide of negative thoughts about law enforcement.

I can say without a doubt that even in today’s world, all cop kids want to see their parents respected and protected. Our parents are people, too.

Alana N. Miller is an integrated communications junior. She can be reached at [email protected]

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