Friday, August 29, 2014

Recruit Class 2014-01 Graduation: My Remarks

Normally when I speak at graduation, I have the luxury of focusing my attention on the new officers...who sit before you at the optimistic start of their careers. Every one of them has worked hard earning the right to be here, and they deserve to be recognized for it.

But tonight I must temper my usual speaking about some of the serious challenges everyone - including and especially these young officers - must be prepared to face.

For this ceremony takes place under the shadow of two distinct events …one distant and one recent.

The long shadow is that of Officer Nicholas Sloan, to whose memory Class 2014-01 is dedicated.  

Nick was killed in the line of duty nearly ten years to the day, before these recruits began their training.  
One member of the class, soon to be Officer Adam Zeiter, grew up across the street from the Sloan family, and was sponsored in his candidacy by Nick’s father, retired Sergeant Terry Sloan.

I mention this so you will know the dedication of a police officer is not merely symbolic, it’s personal.

We remember Nick because he earned the right to be remembered. We remember him because policing is not just a profession, it’s a family. Nick was a beloved member of our police family, and he was taken from us…as no member of any family ever should be.

The other shadow looming over this evening is the one we all know too well, cast by the recent crisis which began in Ferguson…but which now reaches far beyond the limits of any one city.

The current storm has passed, and our region is calm again…for the moment. But we must not fall into complacency. The issues raised in these past weeks will not  - and should not – go away.

Ferguson has revealed an ongoing distrust, felt by some toward the police. Ferguson has shown that, despite all the progress of the past four decades, we still have much work to do…and much to fear if we don’t do the work right.

The men and women who came together to protest in our streets did so because they share a sense of disappointment in our society. They believe that society has failed to meet some of its most important goals, and they see in Ferguson a symbol of that failure.

We know, on a fundamental level, that they are not wrong. Our society has failed its young people in many undeniable and heartbreaking ways.

When our children look into their future, they should see only paths to success. Too many of them look ahead and see a broken trail covered in dangerous obstacles, with tragedy waiting at its end.

Even now, in 2014, there are too many people who feel, and have reason to feel, that the main institutions of society are ignoring or working against them.  We know, and we must face the fact…that this is especially true in the black community.

What does that mean, it means…we know there is fear of the police, even in places where the police are most needed.  And we know we must work harder than ever to replace that fear with open communication and mutual trust.

And this is where we must all pray to find cause for optimism. For I can’t imagine any two groups which have more to gain by working together than the police and the African-American community.
I say that because crime takes such a disproportionate toll on the African-American community. Many of the areas in our city which stand to benefit most from further crime reduction, are predominantly black neighborhoods.

And this which is true of crime in general, is especially true of violent crime.

Nick Sloan dedicated his life to stopping that violence. He didn't argue about the color of the people he was asked to protect.  He risked his life – and ultimately gave it – in a struggle to protect everyone from crime and violence.  

These recruits who graduate tonight…they are making the same pledge, accepting the same risk.

Like the 1,300 officers who stand beside them, they are promising to go where they are most needed, and to protect the people who need them most.

They are going out into our streets to work toward a better world, a safer world…a world in which fewer mothers and fathers will ever know the pain that comes from burying a child.

And if that vision is not a basis for unity, I don’t know what is.