To our community,
First and foremost, I want to express my sincere condolences to the family of George Floyd.
I stand with the millions of people, including fellow police officers, who have peacefully taken to the streets and raised their voice in protest to the all-too-common instances of injustice.
As the leader of a public safety organization and a long-time police officer — I can say that what I saw in that video from Minneapolis does not represent the profession of policing that I know and have practiced throughout my career. As public safety professionals, we are committed to protecting life and serving our community above all else.
First as a human being and second as a person of color who chose a career in law enforcement, I’d like to share my thoughts on the fractured trust between police and the communities that they serve. I grew up in Detroit during the 1960s. During a time when Detroit went through one of the most violent and destructive riots in U.S. history. Racial profiling and police brutality were commonplace towards Detroit’s black residents.
At the same time, I was a child sitting at home watching Adam-12, a TV show that portrayed an ideal version of police officers. Through my TV screen, I saw professional, righteous officers, yet through my living room window, I saw a very different type of policing by some officers.
I saw overt racism. I saw my family and community members endure brutality, injustice and indignity. These were often the topics of conversation during family dinners and holiday gatherings. As a child, I remember seeing police officers and wanting to run away, not because I did something wrong, but I was simply scared. Even though I was scared and angry, I was also inspired to make a difference. At only 8 years old, I decided that I wanted to be that righteous officer who saved the day, helped people and served justice rightfully. I vowed to become that police officer.
One of the lessons I learned in Trooper Recruit School is the importance of impartiality. Police officers are taught to keep personal feelings, beliefs or opinions out of our police work, which is meant to ensure fairness and objectivity when interacting with all members of our communities. During my career, I’ve strived to practice this at all times, even when I found myself standing near white supremacists or anti-police protesters to protect constitutional rights to free speech.
For many officers, it is a perpetual struggle to balance impartiality with speaking out for what is right. We’ve seen this time and time again when police officers and leaders are reluctant to comment on use of force involving another agency, myself included. I do not think people should make premature judgments in the absence of pertinent facts; however, as a profession, we need to do better. When something bad happens, we need to be honest and call it what it is. We must come together, take a stand and commit to real and meaningful change.
Throughout my career, I have heard many acknowledgments regarding the institutional racism and police brutality against African Americans that have occurred throughout our country’s history. What I have heard and seen less often are apologies followed by bold actions to change criminal and unethical police behavior.
“A riot,” Martin Luther King Jr. said, “is the language of the unheard.” The peaceful protests we’ve seen across the country represent the frustration of decades of failures to reform the criminal justice system and police practices, which have fractured trust. I understand. I feel your frustrations. I have been in the trenches fighting for reforms, but I feel as though I have not done enough, and for that I apologize.
We have been here too many times – outraged by African Americans dying at the hands of police officers who have failed to live up to the expectations of our communities and our profession. It’s time to take action, as police officers:
- We must hold ourselves and each other accountable.
- We must listen, engage in dialogue and build trust with our communities.
- We must use evidence-based research to revise policies and practices to address inequities and protect life.
- We must hire officers who reflect the diversity and values of our communities.
This problem did not start overnight and it will not be solved overnight, but I am committed to being part of the solution. And, I know there are many other honorable public safety professionals with whom I have served with, been mentored by, and continue to lead, from all different walks of life and backgrounds, who are committed to reimagining a new way forward.
I know these past few months have been challenging. Managing the hardship of the pandemic is now compounded by recent incidents that remind us of how much farther we still have to go so all people in our community are safe and feel safe. Nevertheless, seeing people of all generations and backgrounds peacefully raise their voices and demand change makes me hopeful. I continually draw inspiration from their passion and their deep desire for a better world.
I am with you, ready to listen and take action.
Despite failures and challenges within our profession, I am still proud of the decision I made as a young child, and I will dedicate the rest of my time in this profession to achieving my vision of what it means to protect and serve all people.
Eddie L. Washington, Jr.