Why cops should employ contrition after shootings

By now, we know the drill: An unarmed Black young man is killed by law enforcement; law enforcement, particularly the police officer union, circles the wagons and tells us that we do not know all of the facts; the officer who killed the young man describes his/her fear for their own safety and lives; the officer is then acquitted.

Being a police officer is a dangerous job.

Front line officers serve a multiplicity of roles — from social worker to mediator, enforcer to deterrent. The police officers that I know have a strong sense of duty and deep desire to do the right thing.

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They understand the complexity of their profession and often times feel misunderstood. I worked closely with local law enforcement in East Harlem during their height of the crack epidemic in the late 80s. I have not chosen to serve as a police officer and I do not envy the job that they do.

 

Two weekends ago a 15-year-old boy named Jordan Edwards was gunned down by police after leaving the scene of a party with his older brother. It seems that the older brother was trying to get away from any possible trouble and protect his younger brother.

These situations are saturated in paradox and complexity. In reflecting on this incident, there are so many thoughts and feelings for me – outrage, sadness and disbelief just to name a few.

I want so much to believe Edward's death is an isolated incident but this is a pattern. The seeds of these forms of oppression were sown when genocide of Native Americans was deemed acceptable, enslaving African Americans was a way of life and exploitation of Asian Americans was the norm.

The idea that people of color are inherently less-human that whites has been successfully planted, cultivated and handed down over generations in American society, even in the minds and souls of people of color.

This past week while in a training focused on learning tools for effective problem-solving and design, one of the takeaways for me was that one starts to address complex problems by starting with simple, clear initial steps.

One day, I would like the leader of the police union, commissioner of police or even the police officer who shoots an unarmed Black person to say “I was wrong and am ready to face the consequences of my actions.”

That would be revolutionary.

I might then feel that they were actually trying to do the right thing but made a mistake.

I might feel that law enforcement might actually be serious about breaking the cycle of such actions.

I might be ready to engage fully with law enforcement to reduce the myriad of unrealistic expectations that so many have of them.

I might even be ready to build coalitions with them to advocate more sane approaches to law enforcement and community support that spreads the responsibility of community well-being to a broader set of stakeholders.

Today, I need to explore and support other strategies that will safeguard the lives of 15 year old Black males like Jordan Edwards… and like my son. As a Christian minister living in the shadow of Easter, I do believe in a God who “makes a way out of no way.”

The words “I was wrong” coming from Law Enforcement would be an important step in the right direction.

Rev. John Vaughn is the executive vice president of Auburn Seminary. He previously served as the minister for education and social justice at the Riverside Church in New York City.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.