Both of my grandfathers had sirens.
I thought that all grandfathers had sirens on their cars and wore uniforms to work. My maternal grandfather was a policeman. My paternal grandfather was a fireman.
Pop was a cop. He served as a policeman for forty years. They finally forced him to retire at the ripe old age of seventy-eight. When Pop instructed us, he would tell us if we did something wrong he would put us in the “pokey.” I didn’t want to be jailed, so none of us did what Pop forbad. There were exceptions involving the coal barn and other things in his backyard. I think our grandmother was the loving advocate that kept us from being jailed for cute grandchild behavior. Pop also the first person I knew that was bald. He was like a mysterious super-hero to me.
In all the years as a policeman, Pop discharged his service weapon once. The legend goes there was a vagrant who was running away from Pop along the rail road tracks. Pop commanded, “Stop or I will shoot.” The vagrant did not stop on command so Pop drew his weapon and fired. He shot a .38 caliber hole in the sky. The vagrant stopped. Pop questioned him and then brought him home to eat supper with the family. The community knew Pop as Captain Joe.
I was only eight when he died. I remember his burial. There were men in their police uniforms who stood in a horseshoe shaped line around the family and the graveside. I had never seen so many policemen in my life.
I have never feared an officer of the law. I do respect them and understand the dangerous nature of their jobs. The worst thing that could happen to me when I come to work is I might get a paper cut. These men and women might die as a result of serving the public yet they come to work every day, fearlessly. They are not handsomely recompensed either.
Here is my burden. We might watch a cell phone recording of an horrific event and assume because we have seen it, we know the truth of it. We were not there. We don’t know the circumstances. We don’t know the complete context of the event. Even when these events involving officers of the law look so egregious, we were not there and we don’t have a visual record of the actions leading to the event. In this country, we have something called a judicial process that determines guilt.
I have interactions with law enforcement. I have found every speed trap in Louisiana once! I have been pulled over numerous times, but not recently! When I am pulled over, I sit in my vehicle. I roll the window down, but other than that, my hands are at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel. I don’t do anything until told to do so by the officer. I am not there to argue, debate, or malign. I am there usually to receive greetings from whatever Parish I have attempted to speed through.
I have pastored many officers during my time as a minister. I have asked about being pulled over and what I should and should not do. The two things that my ministerial memory pulls out are, “never make a sudden move and keep your hands in sight.” I do what I am told to do, because that officer of the law does not know me and is carrying a weapon. Besides, they have just pulled over someone who was breaking the law. They don’t know if I might not break other laws nor if I mean to do them harm. How could they know?
I know I have assumptions that not everyone shares. I assume that I was not randomly pulled over, that likely I was doing something that warranted a stop. I assume that the officer is not interested in harming me. I assume that the transaction will be professional even if I get a ticket. My assumptions come because of my up-bringing. I was taught to respect the uniform always.
Sunday between services, I was in my office having a moment of reflection. I happened to pick up my phone and saw the news about the shootings in Baton Rouge. I don’t understand shooting a law enforcement officer, but I also don’t understand shooting another human being either. I was saddened and said a quick prayer for those who protect us every day.
The police are not the problem. People are the problem. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we live on a planet with seven billion sinners. Stuff is going to happen when that many sinners live in close proximity. Let’s pray for our first responders. They find themselves in the middle of dangerous and stressful situations. They rush in when the rest of us are rubbernecking. They have the hard job of keeping us safe and picking up the pieces when violence or accidents occur.
I think to myself when I see an officer, I wonder if a child is calling that person, “Pop or Nana.” It might help us to remember that under the uniform is a human being.