May 24, 2015

Rector’s Reflection

I had the occasion about ten days ago to talk to a customer service representative who did all the usual data mining – name, phone number, address. I have found through the years that Hattiesburg can be problematic for a lot of folks. It has been rendered HATEiesburgPattysburg… you name it.

It wasn’t like that ten days ago. When I said I was from H-a-t-t-i-e-s-b-u-r-g, MS, the representative said, “Isn’t that the place where the two cops were shot?” I said it was. He then asked, “Were all those people they showed real? Do you really support the police?”

My answer to the first question was a swift and unqualified “YES.” My answer to the second was a swift “YES” as well, but it got me thinking about our visible support of the police. I will have to say that I am proud to live in an area that behaved so honorably and sincerely in the face of such evil… not tragedy, but evil. The outpouring of support from the time of the shootings, and continuing even today with the blue ribbons still on display, tells me that Hattiesburg’s heart is in the right place.

But I also wonder if our support has been on auto-pilot. Remember Richard Nixon’s silent majority? By and large, the critics of those who serve to keep our lives safe are far more vocal than the supporters. Certainly, citizens can’t be expected to line Highway 98 on a daily basis to show their support for the concept of law enforcement, but it occurs to me that there needs to be some way in which we can show our support for those who put their lives on the line every day on a more frequent basis, rather than waiting for some horrendous incident to say ‘thank you.’

A friend of mine told me that a police officer whom he knows told him not long ago that he awoke every morning with a feeling of dread, wondering why he risks his life for people who seem to hate him for doing his job. The national news certainly could leave a person with that impression. Constant charges of racism continue even when the evidence has shown that the person with whom the police officer tangled was, in fact, engaged in criminal activity.

In the wake of protests and riots, often fueled by folks who come in from the outside (“hey, it’s not my property I’m burning”), police officers are sent to be retrained and sensitized, but I haven’t seen a curriculum proposed to retrain and sensitize the drug dealers, robbers, murderers, rapists, and child predators.

As I said last Sunday, I hope that the support for law enforcement and community unity can last, but I know that the efforts must now be intentional and not reactionary. I have asked the vestry to look at some ways in which we… the Church of the Ascension… can be an ongoing beacon of support in a very organic and tangible way. If you have ideas, please share them!

By the way, the customer service representative who prompted this reflection, asked me another question: did I think there would have been riots had the police officers shot the perp (sorry, alleged perp) instead of the other way around. I told him I didn’t think so, particularly if the usual cast of characters didn’t swoop into town from across the country with cameras filming and rhetoric flying.

It was a reasonable question. I don’t know for sure, given the current atmosphere in this country, whether Hattiesburg would have been the next CNN hotspot. I would hope not. But I will say this, law enforcement in its many manifestations has my unwavering support. In my lifetime, law enforcement personnel have come to my aid without assessing whether my plight was worth their danger.

There’s a phrase that has entered the mainstream vernacular that has its roots in poker: all in. To say that you are all in is to indicate your total support… your commitment… your agreement. I have a t-shirt showing support for Christians in the Middle East. It’s emblazoned with the Arabic symbol for Nazorean which Christians in many Muslim areas are forced to display, not unlike the yellow Star of David Jews in Nazi Germany were forced to display, along with the statement I AM ALL IN. Likewise, when it comes to support for law enforcement, I AM ALL IN, too.