“Many of you may be aware that I’ve taken to social media over the past week to express my anger over the death of George Floyd, a man who died at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department officers last week. Not only was Mr. Floyd asphyxiated by an officer, but three other officers stood and did nothing to intervene.
It’s no secret that I’ve taken a very public stand against this, and my feelings haven’t changed. I’m angry at the actions (and inaction) of these suspects (previously employed as police officers), and I’m angry how it paints my profession, one I’ve devoted my life to for nearly 29 years. I’m angry that I know so many great police officers who work hard to do the right thing, and the Grand Junction Police Department, an agency I chose to leave Jefferson City, Missouri for, is a shining example of what a great agency can be.
But let’s face it – we’re not perfect. We have work to do locally. Not only as a police department, but as a city. We have to challenge ourselves to think on a broader scale and take on uncomfortable discussions as to what we’re not perfect at, then take steps to improve. I made the public statement calling out other members of law enforcement for reacting by making statements which I would equate as posturing, which has, admittedly, been met with some mixed emotions by a small number of people who responded. I’ve been criticized by some for how we’ve handled the protests, which have all been peaceful, from both those who are very angry with police in general as well as those who feel inconvenienced by the blockage and temporary closure of some roadways.
I have met with my staff to explain my thoughts, and was, not surprisingly, told that they too were angry over the situation, and that we as a profession need to do better. It speaks volumes as to their character, and I’m proud to serve beside them.
During this same time, I’ve also met with some amazing people in this community. Coach Jackson, our new CMU Football Coach, and I have connected and formed a team, one team, to start these discussions on how we can all be better listeners and better show empathy towards one another, instead of intolerance. Coach has been an outspoken advocate of having conversations that are tough to have, and I cannot explain how much respect I have for him and the members of the CMU Football team, who peacefully protested and came to talk to me and ask me those same tough questions. I listened, and I pledged to go to work, but I cannot do this alone. Our department cannot do this alone. Our community, all of us, must take a moment to pause and consider others’ experiences that we don’t have and have not lived – but we need to listen if we’re going to get through this and get better as a community.
We’ve already taken some first tangible steps – after meeting with protestors on Monday, on Tuesday I met with Coach and other members of the CMU Administrative Team, with strong support from President Foster, to have conversations with student leaders from CMU’s Black Student Alliance and the Cultural Inclusion Council. They asked tough, intelligent questions that deserve our answers, and I cannot say how much I appreciate the opportunity to speak with them and hear their experiences. One of many conversations to come, the next of which will happen this Friday.
Our goal in this is complex. Keeping our community safe – our entire community – is the number one priority. We respect the right to peacefully protest, and on my watch we will honor that without exception. We’ve had conversations to ensure we do whatever we can to protect both those who lawfully protest, as well as reassure our residents we are keeping peace. We want others to see what we end up accomplishing and look to us for guidance within their own communities to be that example on how to truly learn to better respect and understand one another.
Lastly, we’re looking at everything within our own agency, and our staff has welcomed that. We are questioning everything and seeing how we can improve. I’m not naïve – I understand some will criticize us no matter what we do as never good enough, but my pledge to you, as was my pledge to our CMU Football team and other protestors who came to the PD lobby on June 1st, is that I will do my best. This is a marathon, however, not a sprint, so I appreciate the grace in allowing this to build on a solid foundation over time.
We will, as a community, become that much better. We have to.”