Two weeks ago, I was in line to order food at Arby's. I was standing behind a man wearing a police uniform who looked to be in his early to mid-thirties and we had been in line for a while, so I struck up a conversation with him. I asked him how long he had been an officer, and he responded with 'five or six years.' I told him that my dad was also an officer and had been for twenty-five years, and that blew his mind. The look on his face told me he couldn't imagine working in law enforcement for that long. We talked for a few minutes, so I told him all of the different jobs within the law my dad has held throughout his career, and I told him that my mom also works in the field, and he seemed amazed by it all. It was eventually his turn to order, so our conversation ended and we went on about our days.
My parents met at the police academy. They spoke for the first time on the shooting range, where my mom was having a hard time hitting center mass and my dad told her to keep her head up and that she'd do better the next time. She told him to 'shut the hell up.'
I am a child of the thin blue line and when I was a kid, I thought it was incredibly cool that my parents worked in law enforcement. My mom was a deputy and a probation officer, and my dad was a deputy, then a SWAT team member, then a Drug Squad investigator, then a deputy again. When I was in the third grade, I had a t-shirt that read, 'My Dad Can Arrest Your Dad,' with a set of handcuffs printed on the front. I thought I was the coolest kid in school every time I wore it. I used to eat breakfast at the probation office with my mom before she took me to school and sometimes my dad took me to the Drug Squad building and let me maneuver through the tire house they used for training. I never did learn to check my corners. Just before I went to high school, my mom got a new job as the Criminal Justice Instructor at our local technical college and began teaching the next generation of law enforcement officials.
As I moved into high school, though, I started to resent the fact that my parents were in law enforcement. We lived in a small town, so my parents knew every single police officer in the county and every single police officer in the county knew me. Not that I really wanted to do anything illegal, but had I ever tried to sneak out or go to a party or do any typical high-school-kid thing, I would have had zero shot of not getting caught. And, as it turns out, growing up with both of your parents in law enforcement can be a bit off-putting and intimidating to other kids. So that was a brilliant way to spend high school, being the child of two people that every teenager is afraid of. Looking back, I appreciate the people that chose not to hang around me because most of them sucked, but in the moment it was disheartening and confusing.
Being the child of a police officer and a deputy, turned probation officer, turned instructor not only made it difficult for me to find real friends, it also made me a very uptight teen. My parents were strict, for lack of a better word, which I credit mostly to their chosen professions, but also to their incredibly conservative backgrounds. I was afraid to do anything wrong. I never drank; I very, very rarely lied; and I basically ran from anyone my age that smoked pot or drank, even if they were good, normal people. I was anxious about everything. The first time I got pulled over, I was so afraid to tell my parents that I had a panic attack in the car on the way home and thought, 'But if I don't tell them, the cop that pulled me over will.' And all I did was roll through a stop sign.
At times, it was almost suffocating -- hearing about the latest case or trial or who got arrested and why. I grew to hate it. I'd leave the room if they started talking about work. I didn't watch cop shows; I gave that favorite t-shirt of mine to my little brother; I complained about my parent's jobs to my friends and I didn't stop them when they complained back to me. Anything I could reasonably do to defy the fact that my parents were cops, anything that wasn't too rebellious, I did.
Other times, it was terrifying. When my dad was a uniformed officer on the night shift, I'd go to sleep not knowing if he'd be home the next morning. I had a dream when I was nine years old that one of my mom's probationers showed up at our house and shot her. I was told to never advertise what my parents did for a living and that if anyone heard my last name and asked if I was related to a cop, to tell them no.
Now, though, I have moved away from home and I don't hear about the latest cases or trials, or who gets arrested and why. I don't know what shifts my dad works or if any of my mom's former probationers ever see her in public and respond negatively. But, I am an adult (term loosely used) and I do watch the news. I know what kind of political climate we are living in. I know that the criminal justice system is deeply flawed; I know what implicit bias means; I know that there are police officers out there that, without a doubt, should not be police officers; and I know that there are times lethal force is used when it absolutely shouldn't be.
I also know that there are people out there that hate my parents. Not because of who they are or the choices they make, but because at one point or another, they both wore a badge.
My parents chose their careers, not because they wanted to "lock up bad guys," but because they wanted to help good people. They chose thankless, dangerous, selfless careers because they wanted to help. And the vast majority of police officers in this country, and others, chose their jobs for the exact same reason. Does that mean that all officers are valiant and just? Not remotely. But it does mean that those who are, are vilified for the actions of those who are not. I completely understand that the "not all cops are bad" argument has grown tired and monotonous, but I am not speaking for all cops. I am speaking for my parents.
Law enforcement is like the military in its core sentiments: the man or woman next to you -- whether they are your partner, a dispatcher, a state's attorney, a road cop, a foot cop, a court room official, a member of the SWAT team, or the officer behind the front desk -- they are your family. The officer across the country is your family; the officer three counties over is your family. I have never seen my mom cry for a stranger more than the night of Dallas Police shooting.
I am a child of the thin blue line. I grew up behind it, beside it, and with it wrapped tightly around me. I admired it, resented it, and feared for those who enforced it. Now, I respect it. Not because it is always right, not because it has the right to do whatever it wants -- because it isn't and it doesn't -- but because of the good people who represent it.
I am fully aware that I have only experienced one side of law enforcement and I am fully aware that there are sides of the criminal justice system that I will more than likely never have to experience, things that need improving, things that need help -- and I don't contest that. I want to see a change.
I am a child of the thin blue line and I watch cop shows on television now. I am a child of the thin blue line and still haven't learned to check my corners. I am a child of the thin blue line and I want to see a better, more accountable system. I am a child of the thin blue line and I will tell every officer I meet in line to stay safe. I am a child of the thin blue line and I admire those who do their jobs right and do their jobs well, those who have integrity, and those who have the courage and humility to protect and serve, because I am a child of the thin blue line and they do what I cannot.