Ken Hardin: Beware of broad-brush assumptions

Published 12:50 am Sunday, December 28, 2014

I’ve had quite a few conversations about race and law enforcement recently. Some of those I’ve enjoyed, others not so much. With these two topics, opinions typically fall along the lines of the uniform we were issued on our birthday.

The impromptu tête-à-têtes have been held with familiar and random folk who have strong opinions counter to mine. Grape flavored Kool-Aid doesn’t flow though my veins, so I have no problem responding as long as we disagree without being disrespectful. As I’ve listened to both sides, I’m usually left thinking that instead of everyone trying to prove or disprove racism exists, why not try to understand why it impacts each other so differently?

We have to stop minimizing the significance and dismissing the relevance of incidents such as the epidemic of unarmed blacks being killed by officers, and telling people who are directly impacted to walk it off like it’s a pulled muscle. We’ve had one Ebola death and this country nearly lost its mind in its panicked response. We rapidly changed airline policy and health laws because this deadly disease could impact everyone equally, unlike racism. Why is it such an imposition to give even half the level of concern to this issue?

Speaking up and out on perceived injustices doesn’t denote hatred for law enforcement, nor is it anti-police. The black community simply wants quality police protection and increased visibility before incidents occur, which results in stronger, respectful and more positive relationships. That doesn’t sound like hate speech to me.

If a similar pattern involving doctors was detected with the potential to cause irreparable harm and recurring death to one demographic, would you not expect criticism and a fight for change within the medical field? I don’t think anyone would consider it as hating all physicians. In response, should all physicians then take the approach that because this impacted demographic complained, the quality of medical care for them should be lessened? I’ve heard a disappointing and dangerous response that, “But they’ll be the first to call when they need help.” Yes we should, just as anyone else who needs law enforcement services.

It’s easy to mock and disrespect what you don’t endure or understand. Our lives run divergent paths, so your pain is not my pain. As long as we continue to stand firmly and separately entrenched in beliefs born from singular experiences, and show an unwillingness to view social issues through nothing more than our own lenses, we’ll never experience unity.

There are culture hustlers wearing both uniform colors who are doing more harm than good with their divisive rhetoric, power grabs and personal agendas. I’ve listened to the many talking heads hurling inflammatory statements that only serve to widen the racial divide and cause people to dig in their heels deeper to prove their position. When we replace constructive dialogue with statistics about intra-racial crime, assert who has blood on their hands, or fail to acknowledge our own complicity, this takes time away from developing strategies and solutions to prevent this from continuing or reoccurring.

I served in law enforcement for 10 years early in my professional life and have many friends serving honorably and respectfully now. It’s shameful they all have to be painted with a broad brush by the failings of a few peers. But I refuse to remain silent or be painted with that same type of brush because I want and deserve the best from those who took an oath to protect and serve.

There are some people who wear my uniform color acting outside the boundaries of the law, and they should be held accountable. But when I get angry or victimized by an injustice, my first instinct is not to grab a weapon. I grab a pen, pound on a keyboard and make my voice heard. I don’t personally know or interact with anyone whose first instinctual response is violence. All I and many others seek is to be afforded the same benefit and courtesy that’s being sought for all of law enforcement — recognize the diversity that exists. I am my brother’s keeper, but I don’t own every black person’s actions, nor does Al Sharpton hold the title as the king of black people. We can act, think and speak individually.

Every race should be judged by the best they have to offer, not by the worst. I extend this to law enforcement also. We have to feel receptive reciprocity and not be expected to concede to a demand that we stay in our place, remain quiet, accept any police behavior and just walk it off. If we don’t come together on this, we’ll live out that quote about perishing together as fools.

Ken Hardin lives in Salisbury.