How would you feel when the profession you chose to benefit others became villainized?
Most of us spend a very significant portion of our lives in our jobs. It is how we define ourselves. Of all the answers available to “What do you do?” most answer “I’m a carpenter” or whatever is appropriate. During this pandemic, there has been an awareness of our first responders, nurses and EMTs. Many point out other professions, truck drivers, supermarket clerks, all working to keep life going during these challenging times of self-isolation.
Some know what they want to do in life from their childhood and others hear the call towards a profession. I was not one of those. My profession of computer programmer came to me best described by being in the right place at the right time. It was a good profession for me. I liked the work, the pay was good, and employment was easy to find. I was never proud of my occupation but I did comment I was lucky to be paid for doing something I loved to do.
I admit envy for people who could say they were doing good in their jobs, contributing to society or the future. How about those whose profession turns bad, where your contribution, the thing you worked to be good at, becomes demonized. For me, that was being a soldier during Vietnam. The soldiers of my youth, WWII veterans, were heroes, saviors of democracy. My generation was not returning heroes, we were baby killers.
Today, I think the same is true for the police. I remember one of the things children aspire towards, “When I grow up, I want to be a policeman.” Many chose to join the police force to help the community, to serve and protect. Like firefighters, they are first responders, those who run into danger when the rest of us run away. I imagine the disappointment I’d feel when the profession I chose to benefit others became villainized, racist is their version of baby killer.
The call for police reform, for racial balance in our law enforcement, is worthy and meaningful. It is a call to reform the profession, the institution of policing. For many, and I would say most, it is not directed at the men and women in blue. The dark side of racism is countered by the bright side of nobility and service.
This labor day I am thinking of the police who are living during this time of scrutiny and negative criticism. I don’t want to live without the police. I don’t want to hinder their ability to protect the community with the fear of a legitimate response. I want them to do their job justly and fairly to all. I believe true reform has to come from police officers of conscience as much as it does from our civil agencies, the mayors and legislators.
This labor day I say “Thank you” to the police who go to work each day, same as the mailman and secretary. Like the firefighter, these men and women leave with the uncertainty of not returning home. At its core, policing is noble work.