Up until a few years ago I was among the group of people that thought: All cops are bad. All cops are fascists’, class traitors, bullies, white supremacist’s, etc. Then I started working at my new job. Now I work closely with child protective services and the local police and sheriff’s offices. I even felt uncomfortable about that at first. I was worried I’d accidentally say something to get myself in trouble. I was worried they would be complete assholes, sexists, victim blamers. I was worried they’d find out I’m a liberal, yoga teaching, vegan and mock me or even despise me.
To my surprise, working with the police was not the experience I was expecting at all. It’s honestly left me pretty conflicted about where I stand in regard to law enforcement. As a child, we’re taught that cops are the good guys. They’re here to protect us and help us. Then we become teenagers and cops are the enemy. Now I’m a young adult and I’ve come full circle. Cops are just people. Some are good, some are bad, most are a complex mixture of the two just like we all are.
My sister is still very much in the mindset that all cops should be hated. To her, they are still all racists and monsters. She won’t even listen to me talk if the story involves one of my new cop friends. Which saddens me, because a lot of these guys are just that, my friends. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d ever say that. But I genuinely love interacting with a lot of the officers we work with. They are kind, funny, intelligent people. I genuinely value all that they do to help the children that we meet here. I see how much these cases affect them. I see the big, muscly, tattooed, bald cop tearing up at the story a little girl tells. I see how hard he works to put her rapist behind bars. He shows me pictures of his daughter’s pet rabbit, who loves him. Once he even tried to set me up with his son, and I was hopeful that it may work out and he would be my father in law some day. That’s how much I respect and admire this man!
The point I’m trying to make here isn’t that cops are good and we should all love the cops. Obviously, as we see on the news every day, there are cops killing innocent people for no reason all over the country. In no way am I trying to minimize that or make excuses for it. I’m just trying to highlight the importance of personally getting to know people from different groups before judging them. Just like I was able to be critical of all cops until I personally met some, people that don’t know any individuals of a certain minority group are far more easily able to lump them all together in harmful stereotypes. It’s nearly impossible to generalize about a group of people when you know and work with members of said group.
Ignorance breeds hatred. We fear what we don’t understand. Rather than sit with the fact that we don’t know much about different cultures and ethnicities, we prefer to pigeon hole them through generalizations. I hear a lot of talk about the value and importance of diversity, but I don’t often hear any explanation as to why this is so essential to society. I think my own experience has taught me that. And I am so grateful that I’ve had this chance to learn something so important.
It may be easy to see the harmful biases that others hold, but we can’t control the way the people around us view the world. Perhaps it’s more important for us to look inward. No one is free from biases and prejudice. Some are certainly more harmful and systemic than others, but nonetheless we’ve all got them. Not only do these judgements hurt others, but they hurt the ones who are doing the judging as well. What a crime it is to close ourselves off from the vast complexity of the world by trying to shove everything and everyone into neat little boxes. Keep your heart and mind open. Don’t decide who other people are, let them show you.