In policing, tragedy is a constant companion. In most cases officers are dealing with the aftermath of the terrible circumstances that befall others; the accidents and misadventures, the brutality, the abuse, and the betrayal. But sometimes the police are the victims.
In my last blog post, I spoke about the path to tragedy upon which we set our police officers if and when we, as a society, ignore the complex social dynamics that exist in our communities. Within a day five police officers were killed in Dallas, and on the weekend another three were killed in Baton Rouge.
These tragedies in Dallas and Baton Rouge, thousands of miles away from Canada, affect all police officers because of the kinship within the profession, a kinship rooted in the common nature of the daily experience of being a police officer. Our families and friends, parents, spouses and children are drawn into these terrible stories. They experience a dizzying mix of emotions: sadness for the officers and their families, horror as they imagine the same tragedy with their loved one as the victim, and joy when they are finally able to hold their loved one again when they do get home.
Just a few weeks ago I stood with my elderly parents at the memorial for the three Codiac RCMP officers that were murdered in Moncton in 2014. The life-sized bronze statues of Fabrice Gevaudan, Douglas Larche, and Dave Ross left me without words. I know that my parents each, at that moment, felt thankful that both my brother and I have retired from policing. For thirty-two years they worried about us.
The context of what happened in Dallas and Baton Rouge makes it all the more difficult as we try to make sense of these tragedies. We all wonder where the responsibility lies. Beyond the sad people who commit the acts of violence, what larger societal context allows this violence to flourish? The apparent competing agendas of groups attempting to address the racial divide in America such as Black Lives Matter, and the counter-movement of All Lives Matter, can overshadow the individual tragedies of the lives lost. The call for calm from many corners of the community has been inspirational, and in many ways characterizes what can be the best of our nature. From the families of the men shot by police officers, to the President and community leaders, to Snoop Dogg and The Game, the call for unity in addressing systemic issues without violence has been clear and loud.
As police officers, we feel a kinship with American officers, caught as they are in a toxic mix of racial unrest, political polarization, and more guns than the average Canadian can even begin to imagine. While we are faced with many of the same societal issues here in Canada, our communities are nowhere near as volatile as what we see in the US, ...for now. The US policing experience ought to serve as a cautionary tale for the Canadian public, Canadian police leaders, and Canadian police officers that are working on the streets of our communities each and every day.
Forgive me, but I think it bears repeating when it comes to the imperative of fixing, and nurturing, the relationships between the police and marginalized people: If we fail (and we have been failing all too frequently), we commit our police officers, regardless of how pure the individual officer's intentions may be, to a course that inevitably leads to tragedy.
I look forward in future posts to talking about the role of the police in affecting social change. Is that part of the mandate? Should it be?
About Barry MacKnight
Barry MacKnight is the owner of MacKnight Consulting and Chief of Police (retired) of Fredericton Police Force (2005-2012). With a wealth of experience gained from close to 30 years in the Canadian policing environment, MacKnight helped develop the Bachelor of Arts in Policing program at Laurier.