The community trauma toward the police is real. My own trauma journey involved being a by-product of over-policing by the New York Police Department (NYPD). I have overcome this fear by building relationships with officers and getting to understand their role.
Personally, growing up as a NYC teenager, I’ve experienced being racially profiled several times, where the New York Police Department (NYPD) stopped and frisked me, sometimes being signaled out from my friends. This was during post 9-11 where Muslim discrimination and violation of civil liberties were commonplace. Till to this day, whenever I see police cars, I feel that I’m being watched.
When I moved to Minnesota, I lived in Cottage Grove, a primarily white suburb (as a person of color, I stand out). I was taking some fall photos in the neighborhood during my walk back from work, and some neighbor decided to call the police on me. The police car was slowly following me, raising my suspicion until the officer came out of the car. I was deeply afraid of what could happen next, will the officer believe me that I was taking pictures, or will I get arrested for trespassing and lose my job [worked at the school district]. Nothing had come out of it, but I immediately had thoughts of guilt and wrong-doing.
When Philando Castile was tragically killed by a Falcon Heights police officer, it created a visceral fear toward the police within me. I was a fairly new driver at the time, and what happened to Philando could happen to me. Within a few days, I had a nightmare where I was stopped by the police and they misinterpreted my movement and shot me several times, via slow-motion movie style. I was still alive, so the officer emptied the clip to make sure I was dead. I process trauma through humor and was considering using this as my final joke for my standup routine. At the time, I was physically uncomfortable around police officers.
During my run for city council, I have partially healed from my trauma after making some friends who are officers, and did a couple of ride-along that helped me understand what officers had to deal with on a regular basis, the negative aspects of a community, and be willing to risk their lives at a moment’s notice. I have come to greatly appreciate their role in keeping the community safe.
My trauma journey from perceiving officers from cruelty to one of understanding and respect required building relationships and acquiring new experiences. One of the things I’ve noticed is that pro-policing advocates are always persons that have some sort of close relationship with officers. This relationship overrides negative encounters with the police. In smaller towns, the close relationship with officers is a given, but in big cities there is a wide rift of citizens of actually knowing officers, and their only experience is at the receiving end. Building those relationships take time and requires both parties to reach out to one another.