Not what I usually write about, but something that has been bubbling at the edge of my consciousness. I dropped this off at my local precinct headquarters this afternoon.
November 26, 2010
As I was chopping celery for stuffing and pressing dough into pie tins on Thanksgiving morning, my mind turned to how grateful I am for the Seattle Police Department.
This spring, my family had the good fortune to travel in several developing countries.
- We watched police trump up infractions to get money out of taxi drivers—or us—and I realized that it never even crosses my mind that a Seattle officer may pressure passing motorists or pedestrians for bribes or extort unregulated “tolls”. Whenever you pull me over, it is because I deserve it—and even then, sometimes, I am given unexpected grace.
- We stayed in towns where the police simply go home at night and lock their doors, abandoning the roads and neighborhoods to literal highwaymen. I thought about how you come when you get a distress call, no matter the time of day. When addicts needed to be nudged out of my neighborhood park early one Saturday so that a volunteer crew could plant, when a lone woman had her purse strap and arm slashed at one in the morning, you were there on my block, talking to my neighbors. We call because we’re scared, and you come.
- We visited places where the police decline to patrol poor communities, leaving them to some blend of self-policing and lawlessness. I thought about how you are present throughout our city, doing jobs that are sometimes tedious, even resented, like creating a visible presence in my daughter’s high school.
These are the small things that let me as a woman leave home on foot on or on a bicycle thinking only about my errands or the beauty of the turning leaves overhead. They are the ordinary acts of service that, together, let me as a mother send my daughters to school on their own bicycles, unaccompanied.
But our community asks even more of you.
Like our soldiers, we ask you to face situations that we ourselves want no part of. We send you to confront people who are armed and drunk or schizophrenic or suicidal or consumed by anger or lacking in conscience. We expect you to make measured, accurate judgment calls in life or death situations, where a misstep can mean that your children or others end up orphaned. This work, from what I can tell, is as thankless as it is dangerous. When you get it wrong, we harangue you in the media and public forums—or bury you with fanfare. But when you get it right, we give you passing mention, breathe a sigh of relief and go on our way.
We ask you also to put your emotional well being at risk, to see things that we ourselves try not even to think of: the aftermath of a hatchet murder or a drug overdose or a freeway accident, or remnants of fabric and bone in a woods. We assume unthinkingly that you will not be haunted by what you see or the stories you hear, that you somehow can absorb the darkness in our city and still go home to your friends and families with your warmth and playfulness intact and then come back to the beat engaged and accessible. That is a tall order, a superhuman order at times, I suspect.
To make matters worse, in these hard economic times we-the-people have hunkered down in a politics of worried selfishness, so we ask you, along with our other public servants, to do what you do with fewer and fewer resources: fewer officers to cover the same territory, fewer referrals for people on the edge who cause safety problems, fewer dollars for training and technology or the kind of support that helps you to stay healthy even when you are absorbing society’s toxins for all of us. Like our teachers, you let us know sometimes that we are asking too much for too little. But mostly you just do the best you can. For that I am deeply grateful.