This past year has been a gut-puncher, especially for cops. Ferguson. Tamir Rice was 12. Tony Robinson in Madison. Freddie Gray and Baltimore Protests.
Now 15 year old Dajerria Becton in McKinney.
Slammed down on the ground. Knee to the back. She was unarmed and no threat. I have compassion for the officer – he dealt with two suicide calls the same day, including one father who killed himself poolside. I don’t think I could do it. I really don’t. But sadly, my first thought when I heard the news was: I’m glad she didn’t get shot.
I’m glad she didn’t get shot. What? Then I thought: Why are so many people racist? Does everyone need a body cam? What the hell is going on?
A lot of us feel this way. We saw it in Ferguson. It was much bigger than Michael Brown. Ferguson was unified voice, years of hurt and anger. Generations of rage and tears and injustice. A lot of things were exploding at once.
Racism still exists. Even more, Racism is systemic. Systemic.
It is woven into the fabric of our country and our laws. Though the Jim Crow laws have been "shot down," the seed and spirit of them still lives. Prior to 2010, a crack-cocaine possession was an automatic minimum of five years prison. Crack is cheaper and more prevalent among low-income minorities. But cocaine, the more expensive, designer drug commonly used by whites – took 100 times the amount for the same sentence. In 2010, this number was lowered to 18 to 1, and many inmates received a reduction of their prison sentence. But why still 18 to 1? It’s the same drug, different form.
Why did the “War on Drugs” focus mainly on black drugs? Maybe it should be called “The War on Blacks and Their Drugs.” (For more on this, read Joshua Dubois penetrating article that appeared on the cover of Newsweek.) Racism has been systemic for the existence of our country, both towards African Americans and the First Nation tribes.
We enslaved one and exiled the other. We enslaved one and exiled the other. Slavery and exile.
I grew up close to this. My mom graduated from Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Same year they brought armed soldiers into the school to guard the first black students - "the Little Rock Nine." It was a wild mess. Shouters. Rioters. Mom said that she never saw a threat from other students, the threat was from outside the school. When the Governor tried to keep the children out, President Eisenhower intervened and overturned him. Thank God.
I know this is a complex and multi-layered issue. There is history and hurt and nuances and things I know nothing about. I know healing takes time. I know change and reformation takes time. I also know there is something powerful about the good stories. The stories we hear nothing about. The stories of the silent helpers.
Which brings me to these five cops.
For the past two years, my organization, The Mentoring Project, has been working closely alongside the Oklahoma City Police Department and their gang-prevention team. They have five cops (and just hired a sixth) to keep high-risk OKC youth from joining gangs and dropping out of school. It is an visionary and daring program.
Most officers only intervene: you are speeding, here’s your ticket. Shoplifting? Arrest. And on and on. But these officers have been in the prevention space for several years, and it is showing in the community. Last year alone, they made some 7000 house visits for children who were dropping out of school. The majority of those students came back. They made many other house visits – children on the brink of joining gangs, doing and dealing drugs, getting thrown in prison or shot.
These officers have seen everything. They have also seen some amazing stories. Children avoiding gangs, children staying in school and getting 4.0 grades and college scholarships, children steering away from their peers and their destructive courses and making the best decisions. Children are responding to the love of cops and mentors who are quietly and stubbornly showing up.
When we first started mentoring, we asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up. They said, predictably, "basketball players, rappers, ballers." After being with them for six months, we asked them again. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The same children said, "Mentors and Cops."
Last Friday, it was my joy to honor them.
I was speaking at our Father’s Day Party, called Don’t Buy The Tie. Propaganda was doing his epic spoken word thing. It was beautiful and amazing. I was supposed to be raising money. I was supposed to be telling everyone all the great things The Mentoring Project is doing. And there are many. But perhaps the best is serving these officers by recruiting, training and matching mentors to serve children alongside them.
I couldn’t stop talking about and honoring these five officers – and the heroic work they are doing. I went on and on and on. (Some accused me of being long-winded.) I finally had them stand and they received an ovation. In a day where there is fear, anger, suspicion, hurt – these five officers are silently changing the landscape of urban OKC, changing the trajectory of hundreds of children.
And it’s the honor of my life to serve and learn from them.