Never stop trying to teach
I remember, so clearly, the first time it happened. I come from a very close family. My LEO even calls it “unhealthy close” at times. So how is it that I had been in a relationship with an officer for 7 years and suddenly I felt like I was a stranger to my family? November of 2011 is when the University of California-Davis saw a protest from students as part of the Occupy Movement. Most people know exactly what I’m referring to: “the pepper spray incident.” The popular story says that "peaceful protesters" were pepper sprayed by militarized police officers. Naturally the headlines piqued my interest. I had just married my LEO and decided to watch a cell phone video of the protest. What I saw horrified me. How could anyone ever call this peaceful? Through my eyes I saw men and women, just like my husband, standing in uniform in a circle as protesters shouted, chanted, and formed a circle around them. They were so outnumbered. Their shields and masks didn’t seem to be enough protection and I remember feeling a knot of worry grow in my chest. Had the mob decided they wanted to take the officers down, they easily could have. I pictured my own husband and thought about how I would fear for his safety if he was ever in their shoes.
I was so effected by the emotions that I felt, I naturally brought the topic up with my family. Again, we are close; we talk about everything. Imagine my surprise when our discussion had suddenly dissolved into a full blown argument with my parents and siblings on the side of the protesters and media. How could they not understand? They had known my husband for 7 years. He had been in law enforcement that entire time. How were they not able to put this into perspective? I lost it. I ended up in a ball of tears asking how they could ever wish that upon us. Trying to speak rationally was no longer in my grasp. For me, it was like my LEO had been on the front lines that day and my family was ready to vilify him for it and me for supporting him. I thought they knew the person-- the family-- behind the badge. How was I so wrong? My own family, the closest people to me, didn’t understand this life. What chance did we stand if they couldn’t even get behind us? I’m pretty lucky. I don’t think most police spouses get to go 7 years before having their first taste of how different our lives are because of who we love, especially these days. As jolting as it was to feel like my family didn’t know me at all, it was a really good lesson for me to learn. I had grown away from my family within my relationship. I never really voiced my growing concerns for my officer’s safety and the growing movement of people who hated him for his uniform. I just assumed that my family knew me well enough to know how I was feeling and to supports us through this.
Sure there was a while when I drew into myself. I joined police spouse support groups and enjoyed every moment of having a community that just gets it, where I don’t have to explain myself. But at some point, it dawned on me-- I can’t ever improve anyone’s opinions of officers if I don’t find the courage to talk about it with people who most likely don’t share my opinions.
Most people don’t know that I make a conscious decision to tell stories about officers doing good. I slip stories into conversations about really terrifying situations on the job and how the officers probably felt in the moment. I ask people to imagine themselves in these situations and ask what they would’ve done differently. I teach them about what kind of training my husband has gone through and about what they can and can’t do on the job. I try to be open to their questions, even when they are rude or the person is looking to argue. It’s tough these days. I know most things in life are cyclical and I am waiting for the day when the public seems to mostly support our officers instead of mostly condemning them. I dream of the time when my husband can be seen as a beacon of hope to those in need instead of being filmed every time he shows up to a call. Maybe sometime soon, the general public will see that he is a force for good and deals with things that many sweep under the rug as they make their assumptions about him.
TALKING ABOUT HOW WE FEEL
It’s been 6 years since the first incident with my family and I still struggle every time we don’t see eye to eye on issues that effect my husband, which then effects our family. But the major difference is that we have the tough conversations now. I constantly bring our personal side of this life to light for them and I know our relationships would be different if I had just given up. It’s easy to feel like one person can’t change anything, but it’s important for each of us to realize that we have so much power. We need to talk about this life and this job. We need to talk about what we see and how we feel. I had many conversations that didn’t go as I had hoped and left me feeling frustrated but all it took was one conversation with a woman who did not support police for me to realize that I can impact change. Days after our conversation, she thanked me for showing her the other side of law enforcement. She explained that it took her a while to process what I had said, but that it had really made her think differently about police officers; specifically their training. Will she ever back our officers like I do? Most likely not. Will I ever have another situation play out like this? Most likely not. Is it going to stop me from trying? Definitely not.
ALWAYS MAINTAIN RESPECT
The key to making these conversations effective is maintaining respect for the person you are talking to and to tap into their emotions. In the days of social media, I think people find it acceptable to be openly rude and condescending to others. I always try to think about how I would see the situation if I hadn’t ever been with my LEO. Would I feel like the police were being too heavy handed? Would I be horrified that peaceful protesters were pepper sprayed for seemingly no reason? Would I hang on mainstream media’s every word? Knowledge of a subject generally happens through experience, but what if no part of your life touches the human side of law enforcement? That’s where we come in. We can share our experiences and our emotions. It easy to scroll past the latest social media post about how tough this life is. It’s a lot harder to ignore me in a conversation about what it’s like to worry about sending my husband out the door every day or how it feels knowing that some day soon I will have to explain to our son why some people hate his father.
When I hear about the kids my husband works with, I overwhelmingly feel like a decent education is what could improve their situation. Sadly, most are not taught to place value in it. It usually takes at least one passionate teacher, mentor, or parent to help them see the value in learning. The same can be said for anyone of any age. If we think of ourselves as passionate teachers, our mission becomes quite clear: show others the value in law enforcement. Never stop trying to teach.
About the blogger: Kristin is the proud wife of a Minnesota officer and proud mama of a son and two pups! She enjoys writing, crafting, and creating in her spare time and is a recent member of Backing the Blue Line.