I’m a Cop and I Support Black Lives Matter: How Can We Heal These Wounds?

Jul 10 2016

I’m a Cop and I Support Black Lives Matter: How Can We Heal These Wounds?

July 11th, 2016

On Friday morning, I woke up and deactivated my Facebook account, frustrated by the highly charged, divisive rhetoric appearing in my stream from friends and activists on opposing sides of the Black Lives Matter versus Blue Lives Matter argument. Over the weekend, in the wake of the Dallas shootings, I’ve watched along with the rest of the country as renewed protests and hundreds of arrests took place. The stark exposure of our national fault lines is distressing, and while there is hope, you have to search hard to find it.

I’m a retired police professional, a 20-year-veteran of California law enforcement. I’m also a criminal justice reform activist, a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. So the diversity of my social media friends reflects my values—values which now appear to be at war with each other.

I greatly fear that the violence of this past week will further exacerbate the deep divides in our society. The loss of five police officers protecting Black Lives Matter protesters in Dallas can now be added to the losses of the scores of people of color, including Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minnesota, who have recently fallen victim to the troubling state of police-community relations in America—and yes, in too many cases, to enforcement strategies based on structural racism. Every one of these deaths is not only tragic in itself, but also further poisons relations and entrenches opinions.

By now, I’m emotionally drained from continually trying to explain to friends, allies, opponents and interviewers how I can be both pro-law enforcement and pro-Black Lives Matter.

I’m exhausted from continually having to explain why it’s not President Obama’s fault that officers lost their lives; that there is no statistical basis for a so-called war on the police; that Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that police lives don’t matter; that most police officers are not racist or bad.

Not that I’m looking for sympathy; I chose this fight through my work at LEAP. The deep divisions in our country that make such explanations necessary have resulted from many issues, including both overt and structural racism. Post-Ferguson in 2014 I wrote about how the War on Drugs has poisoned community policing and shifted us away from policing by consent. I largely blame our inability to admit to our policing failures, to accept that whether or not we intended to damage or marginalize communities of color, that is what has occurred.

The formation of Black Lives Matter is a direct outcome of our poorly designed criminal justice and economic policies. One of my graduate school professors, Elliott Currie, wrote in his book Crime and Punishment in America (2013) that our over-emphasis on punishment, above all else, is just “an attempt to sweep the problem of America’s poorest communities under the rug.”

In addition to the undoubted failings of law enforcement itself, it’s clear that the police have also been given an insurmountable challenge, a task which, like Sisyphus with his boulder, we will never be able to complete. That’s because law enforcement cannot change the many socioeconomic issues that contribute to crime.

We put pressure on law enforcement agencies to produce lower crime rates, something we take as an indicator of a healthy community. Yet we ignore the fact that law enforcement budgets compete with funding for other badly needed programs, such as education, mental health services, community after-school programs, and the creation of jobs and infrastructure. Together, these programs have been shown to prevent crime and to make a community safer far more effectively than an emphasis on law enforcement alone.

For example, according to a report by the organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids*, researchers estimated that three out of 10 high school students drop out of high school, or to fail to graduate on time. By increasing that high-school graduation rate by 10 percent nationally, the researchers predicted we could prevent over 3,000 murders and nearly 175,000 aggravated assaults in the United States annually.

Recognizing that public safety is a multifaceted challenge, the responsibility of not just the police but a whole range of agencies and services, will require a significant shift in police culture and management. If we truly understood that our role should simply be to limit negative community interventions, improve community interactions and be accountable to our constituents, we could reduce the violence that impacts both communities of color and the police.

The war of words about whose lives matter more serves no useful purpose. Yet that doesn’t mean that initial responsibility for putting things right should fall equally on everyone. Instead, I believe it’s down to us, the members of the law enforcement profession, to start the reconciliation process—because we are the ones in the position of power.

In the current climate, it may be surprising to hear that many of us have already taken steps to do so, embracing reform rather than rejecting it. In a cruel irony, Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who has worked hard and effectively around civil rights, community relations, violence reduction and transparency, is an example of what professional policing can aspire to be. His leadership has seen a dramatic reduction in excessive force complaints, and the publication of information about (increasingly rare) officer-involved shootings in Dallas—the kind of openness that can help re-establish trust.

“Police officers are guardians of this great democracy,” he said during a news conference on Friday morning. “The freedom to protest, the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression— all freedoms we fight for, with our lives. It’s what makes us who we are as Americans. And so we risk our lives for those rights. So we won’t militarize our policing standards, but we will do it in a much safer way every time, like we chose to do it this time.”

Read more from The Influence:

Why Are Heroin, Cocaine and Other Drugs Really Illegal? We Must Never Forget the Answers

Let’s Tear Apart This Repugnant Statement About Harm Reduction

…and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

“We ought to think that we are one of the leaves of a tree, and the tree is all humanity,” Pablo Casals, the Spanish musician, once wrote. “We cannot live without the others, without the tree.”  

Reflecting on these words after the tragic events of last week, I tried to focus on potential solutions, rather than the divisive language and anger—understandable though much of it is.

I found hope in some sane, unifying voices. For example, in this article by Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, he stated that “despite their very different perspectives, participants in both movements [Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter] have essentially the same concerns.”

And Van Jones, the activist, attorney and author, explained in this video that both law enforcement and Black Lives Matter share many of the same feelings, that it’s open season on them.

The entertainer Trevor Noah made a similar point:

Trevor Noah

These voices of moderation and understanding are right. We as law enforcement professionals have an opportunity—as well as the responsibility—to find the common ground necessary to reconcile, to listen and to change policing for the better. It won’t be easy, but we have to do this to heal our country’s wounds and save lives.

*Christeson, B., Lee, B., Schaefer, S., Kass, D., & Messner-Zidell, S. (2008). School or the Streets: Crime and America’s Dropout Crisis. Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, 1-12

Lieutenant Commander Diane Goldstein (Ret.) is a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs. You can follow her on Twitter: @dianemgoldstein.

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  • jontomas

    >>>”the War on Drugs has poisoned community policing and shifted us away from policing by consent.”

    Yes it has. – And until we stop it, we will keep fueling the fire. – You should also realize our attempts to break the cycle are mostly opposed by the corrupt one-percent that have hijacked our government.

    Just as the U.S. killing of innocent women, children – and men – in the Middle East and other areas is an acceptable “cost of doing business,” so is the violence that accompanies their very real war on the poor and middle class.

    Most marijuana reformers are aware the insane war on consumers is not really because of the near harmless plant. – It is a tool of oppression. – This truth was made unavoidable by the recent revelation from the writings of John Ehrlichman, President Richard Nixon’s domestic policy adviser and one of the Watergate co-conspirators who served time in prison for his crimes. In 1994, Ehrlichman said:

    >>>”The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

    • Billy Johnson


  • Hobbes Corbett


    Here is an officer that is making a difference. The media needs to get on board and promote the good officers, and the good people (black and white).

    Sick of the NEGATIVE reporting simply *ALL* of the time….

    • Diane Wattles Goldstein

      I follow Officer Norman and he is exactly what we need. More #PeaceOfficers, thanks for sharing!

  • This is a war of law enforcement against itself. Johnson was Army reserve and Mateen was private security. They are trying to create a market for police to say, “See, this is why you need us.” It’s extortion and I won’t tolerate it. Brown sacrificed his own son, a cop-killer, upon the altar of mental illness and drug addiction and career advancement. Fortunately the situation is self-limiting – evil will implode in a frenzy of self-destruction, as it always does. As a great man once explained, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The only question is how many more innocents will they take down with them.

  • garysco

    Diane, I too am a retired white street cop from Los Angeles (LA jails and Carson Sheriff’s station patrolling East & West Compton). I sympathize with the LEAP efforts & agree the whooping call of drug enforcement as the politicians and money interests have constructed it is going about things all wrong. You tie BLM & the drug policy wars together. I disagree. Cops don’t make the rules or write the laws. Politicians do. Black Lives Matter is a multimillion dollar funded operation run by psych and political policy change experts who know exactly what they are doing and is anything but an organic organization which “suddenly” sprang up after Ferguson, MO. But it is a sweet and easy to digest siren call to those living a miserable existence in it is the hood. Most of which have a different set of lifestyle customs and rules then the average white American community, and who have been told since infants by their “leaders” that it is the white man who is keeping them down, so why try in a rigged game. Ask any successful black man that has escaped the vortex of Compton (or any city black ghetto) and gone on to a successful career and life. He will tell you straight up his old hood would label him a house n***r or Uncle Tom for his efforts and accomplishments. His voice is never heard because (1) he knows better and (2) he would be shouted down by the inner city dwellers still there and the likes of a BLM mob. And maybe too there is some more white guilt money to be had in the form of increasing government handouts at the end. As has always been the case since LBJ’s 1964 War on Poverty started the flow to keep blacks on the government run plantation. I will never accuse the black skinned folks in America of being stupid. Just kept in the dark about real facts and all too many politicians ambitions.

    I have listened to the BLM complains, and many have a “real” from their perspective sound to it (although black deaths at the hands of the police was 258 last year, and only single digits are found unjustified after state and federal examinations – but that is omitted from media reporting), out of the millions of police/ black or any community contacts in a country of 320,000,000. Aside from the typical Che Guevara/ Marxist organization structure and tactics I cannot find any BLM solution or a plan for the future, beyond some slogans to scream in cops faces when marching down the city streets. If I have missed their plan for a national “can’t we all just get along” I assure you it is not intentional and I would love to see it.

    • Diane Wattles Goldstein

      Hi Gary, I want to address the issue of cops only enforce the law. In the last 20 years the criminal justice lobby has exploded. From PORAC, CNOA to the Sheriff’s training and union organizations, the FOP, The Chief’s all sponsor or oppose legislation. I can point to the millions of indirect and direct tax payer dollars used to fund lobbyist outside of collective bargaining which I support. And if you google campaign zero you will find a plan, I don’t agree with it all, but it is out there. But you have to admit that even in the Sheriff’s department that we inherently police communities differently based on economics. I worked gangs and narcotics and I respectfully disagree. I don’t agree with all of BLM but I hope that you go back and watch last nights CNN Townhall called Black, White and Blue in America. We need to build consensus and we do need to talk about race no matter how uncomfortable. But I oppose both sides who call for further entrenchment and violence. There is a middle ground where we can change policy that protects police officers and lessen violence in the communities that we protect.

      • garysco

        Good points all. I too disagree with police unions pulling weight to get legislation. Same with teachers unions, who have destroyed public education and produced 50% graduation rates and politically correct zombies who can’t read & write. But that is where we have arrived in the last 35 or 40 years.

        And as much as I dislike Maxine Waters as a political opportunist, she is right on some of the drug issues. I have seen the inside of DEA and narcotics task forces as well. But in the end drug use (and its fallout) is a simple demand-and-supply issue. Police are just the public’s street janitors.

        I have police-worked patrol in communities ranging from Compton to back country resident Deputy, working alone with help 30 minutes code-3 away. I have come to the conclusion that police are always reactionary. And in general are a reflection of the community they patrol and the philosophy of upper management (I offer Sheriff Baca & Tanaka as opposed to the Sheriff Pitchess regime). And I know of no police chief or sheriff that advocates “getting” the black race as BLM postulates. This is again, like the 20’s, 30’s & 60’s, a political group to agitate, not solve.

        Change in the black community must come from within with a willingness to address their own violence problems honestly and stop blaming history and other races for what is wrong. The police abuse of them is a canard, and a reflection of working conditions, not a cause.

        • Diane Wattles Goldstein

          I think you and I are saying the same thing but from different lenses. Largely the question now is what is the solution. Ending the over policing of poor communities and the drug war is one step in the right direction of righting many of these issues. Here are two articles that are not from a progressive or a conservative standpoint that you may find of interest.



          • garysco

            Thank you Diane. Joey Clark nails it. White America elected Barrack Obama and black America elected Barrack Obama. He was to be the political Moses leading the country out of bondage. They chose the wrong horse to bet on. He had his own agenda to accomplish and it wasn’t theirs. But he is just one of thousands of people manipulators that hold office today. That is one group of interracial members who know how to sit down and have dinner and drinks with each other. They have a common interest.

            As to the peoples money extracted by governemt. It will only get worse as cities and states need more and more to keep their sinking ship afloat. Unfortunately for us they will turn to ‘law’ enforcement to protect them.

            Race relations today is but one of many sores on the body politic. It just happens to be an important one because there are funded groups that have a mission and the bodies in the streets, emergency rooms and jails cannot be avoided.

            The fix? An educated public capable of critical thinking.
            Rare as 10 carat diamonds in the hoods and barrios, and almost as rare everywhere else. Those two things are no longer taught in our schools and in fact is are undesirable goals by those who want to control. The reason and the methods are hiding in plain view, but are denied and omitted from discussion. John Dewey’s long plan philosophy has been fully implemented. Step by step, year by year by those who wish to lead the discussion (to our combined detriment). Why else would the average public school administrator keep getting paid $300,000.00 – $400,000.00 a year to produce so many failures.
            The very short ‘clean’ version of his plan:

            His taught philosophy prepares the way for a country to accept the ultimate goal:

            Fix that and you will fix (as much as is possible in human affairs) America.

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  • wergov

    You begin to heal the wounds by acknowledging the wrongdoing! After Law Enforcement admits that it needs to be retrained in the areas of apprehension, then they need to actually DO IT! The healing will be slow after generations of slave mindedness.

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