On my way to the Oakland Airport this morning (I’m going to Connecticut), we were passed by — and then stopped entirely for — the longest funeral procession I’ve ever seen. Mostly, the procession was made up of police cars. But there were plenty of motorcycle cops, and firefighters and ambulance drivers, and park rangers, and anyone else who does a job where they protect people from harm. All of them were on their way to the Oakland Coliseum, which is one exit before the airport. Today’s the day for the funeral of the four police officers who were killed last week after a routine traffic stop went wrong.
Being a cop is a dangerous job. Mostly, I don’t think about that. My general experience with the police as a citizen is to feel mad about the ticket I just got for turning left when I wasn’t supposed to, or to feel grateful that someone’s directing traffic.
But there are ways in which the police let us down and these disappointments are what you often see when you encounter the police in the media — police officers who extract confessions through coercion, hide evidence or manufacture it, use physical violence out of frustration or take bribes.
This morning, I just thought about how brave you have to be to pull somebody over, and how much more courage it probably will take in the weeks to come to do that. And I also hoped that the men and women going to that funeral will remember that young black men aren’t the enemy and that even when you’re afraid, you still have to do the right thing by everyone in the community you serve. And I hoped that the young black men in the community will remember that the police aren’t their enemy and that many of them, particularly in Oakland, are not so different from they. This is what courage looks like today: seeing each other more clearly, and realizing that we are more alike than we are different.