Mourning Bands on Badges Becoming Far Too Common
When a law enforcement officer dies in the line of duty, other officers wear a black band across their badge to honor their service and sacrifice. For the second Sunday in a row, as we hear reports of yet another murderous attack on law enforcement, I find myself sending notice to our deputies that mourning bands will be worn for another week.
I’ve been involved in law enforcement for several years. I’ve worked alongside some incredible men and women. I’ve also worked alongside some people who were not cut out to be in this profession. I’m not talking about those who lacked training or those who misjudged the profession by underestimating the incredible amount of paperwork, the long hours, the stress on them and their families or any of the other multiple reasons that someone may not be well-suited for this career. I’m talking about those who feel because they wear a badge they also have authority to talk down to people, to treat them as inferior based on some twisted rationale, or believe they are able to break the law and not be held accountable. To be honest, I, and most of the law enforcement professionals I know, can’t stand those people. They degrade our profession, erode the public’s trust and work against what others try to achieve. I’m thankful those people make up only a fraction of the many cops I’ve known. Yet even when I think of those very few cops, I can’t recall any of them who I believe got into law enforcement so they could inflict pain and violence upon a certain religious group or race. Fortunately, most cops are good people and good cops do not want to see innocent people get hurt. Good cops do not want to find themselves in a position where they have to take the life of another person. We have good cops in Cherokee County. Having had the privilege to serve with nearly all current officers within the county at some time or another, I believe our city, county and state agencies with agents assigned here are all well served by professionals. Each and every one of those men and women, at a certain point in their lives, had to make a decision with regards to their career. There’s no question they could have chosen a profession or trade that was statistically less dangerous, less stressful and more profitable. But they decided instead, like I did, to try and make a difference in our community. They wanted to be the person who responded to cries for help. They wanted to be the person who was called to bring calm to a chaotic and violent situation. They wanted to be the comforting voice when someone was experiencing some sort of crisis. They wanted to do this job because this is our community, too. We don’t want thieves and drug dealers running around. We don’t want an innocent person driving from point A to point B to be killed by a drunk or reckless driver. We don’t want parents to be afraid to allow their kids to play outside. We want that for you and we want that for us.
Look, not everyone is going to like everything law enforcement does. Truth be told, even those in law enforcement don’t always agree with what law enforcement does. But we have a job to do, we took an Oath, we have principles and we try hard to not compromise our integrity, even if that means doing something we know is unpopular. When a community or agency finds it has an officer who has taken the job for unrighteous reasons, they have an obligation to get rid of that officer. Failure to do so will eventually infect the entire agency, ultimately diminishing their ability to adequately serve their citizens. In our democracy, there is a process in place to make that happen. City residents are empowered to elect council members and mayors who make changes with regards to who will run their police departments while residents are also able to vote for their sheriff, who oversees the county law enforcement operation. What can't happen, what we can't allow to become acceptable, are violent ambushes leading to the murder of our cops in the street. We as a nation have a tendency to quickly become numb to the shocking news that seems to come more and more frequently. We can't allow this to become one more of those issues that we learn to dislike but accept. We can't hope someone else will fix the problem. We can't hope that some politician somewhere is going to make everything okay. They won't and we will find ourselves once again disappointed and disheartened.
I understand all who enter this profession did so as an adult, knowing and accepting the risks associated with the job. They also know and understand they will be put in difficult situations which may result in criticism and questioning from those very same people they choose to serve. Finally, they know and understand they may one day have to use deadly force or may be killed themselves. Despite knowing these things, they signed up anyway. They raised their right hand and took an Oath. They accepted the responsibility to stand between our neighbors and the criminals who wish to harm them. They have pride and honor in their role in maintaining a safe community.
Because they entered this profession knowing what they were getting into, it’s not easy for those officers to get discouraged. However, after regular news reports of cops being murdered simply because they are cops, hours of coverage about how despicable the police are, having their minds race each time they get a call - even a seemingly mundane one - wondering if it’s an ambush, seeing the look of concern on their families face when they leave for work each day, they can find themselves becoming emotionally and physically drained.
That is why I continue to be so proud of our community. Time and time again, whether a national tragedy is occurring or not, you continuously show your support for our area law enforcement. Over the past week or so we’ve had residents bring food by the office, send cards, share their appreciation on social media and express their support in many other ways. In fact, the other night I got this text message from a couple of deputies, “We’ve had our dinner paid for the last two nights. People are good to us here. It’s a good feeling to know there’s a lot of decent folks out there.”
Everyone, regardless of what you do, enjoys feeling appreciated. Law enforcement officers who work for the community are no different, so when members of the community express their support, it means a lot. We don’t expect these things or feel entitled to anything, but do appreciate any gesture including those as simple as a wave or a handshake.
So, on behalf of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office I thank all of you for the respect and appreciation you regularly show the officers across our region. Along with my thanks, I’ll conclude this message with two requests. First, as a Christian, I ask that you pray for our law enforcement officers and our nation. Second, I ask that you follow up those prayers with action. I ask that you reject divisiveness. This is an election year and regardless of where you land, if anywhere, on the political spectrum, there will be those who use ambushes on cops or any other national tragedy to spin towards advancing their agenda. We have to say enough. Time out. We have to reject the rhetoric, sending a clear message to our leaders that they need to focus on achieving common objectives, bringing people together, rather than supporting talk that only serves to further divide us. In our society, it’s unacceptable for citizens to be afraid of the police and the police shouldn’t be murdered by snipers waiting for them to arrive to a call. That just doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
Affecting change during these challenging times may seem overwhelming and out of our control, but we can and must do it. We can start in our homes. When we talk about people or ideas, even those we disagree with, we can speak with respect. We can learn to appreciate people for being children of God and not vilify them because they disagree with us. We can stop blaming everyone else for all of our societal issues and expect someone else to do the heavy lifting to fix things. We can teach our kids and grandkids to be tolerant and patient without compromising their values and beliefs. We can also teach them that their actions have consequences. We can make a conscious effort to be friendly towards one another, including strangers, every day. These aren't difficult things. And maybe, just maybe, if we start in our own homes it will carry over to our workplaces, then our community, then our region and so on and so forth. Eventually, with a concerted effort towards making our own communities better and stronger, we may just wake up one day to find that the same attitude and effort has spread across our great nation. I pray that it does, I pray for all law enforcement professionals and I pray for all of you.
Sheriff, Cherokee County