With all of what’s been happening worldwide, those of us with young children know that eventually they will be exposed to current events – even those that are difficult to confront or explain. We also understand that it is our responsibility as parents to teach them about what’s happening in a world that they, too, will soon be a part of.
This weekend, my four-year-old son asked me what pepper spray was – to say I was surprised would be an understatement. I asked him where he had heard about pepper spray. He told me “Alexa” had said it. Apparently, he accessed the news from the device, and he asked why so many people were mad at the police.
Trying to explain to my son (who has only been told that police officers are a safe group of people who help in an emergency) that there are police officers who do not always do the right thing, who do not always honor all life, who do not always value the rights of people of color – is a heartbreaking realization. For a young child who is used to thinking in terms of absolutes, it surely adds a layer of confusion.
However, the conversation I had with my son puts a lot into perspective. Many families of people of color have very different types of conversations regarding law enforcement; teaching their children to be cautious of police, to be sure to be overly polite, to keep their hands at 10 and 2 when they are in a traffic stop, to comply with all directions given. There are parents who live in fear of what will happen to their children, not necessarily because of the choices they make, but because of the color of their skin.
Last night there was a demonstration in support of George Floyd at the oceanfront.
Peace through reasonable means is always what we should strive for and I never condone property damage or violence. But, I believe that this week as a whole has illuminated the quote by Martin Luther King Jr., “Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.” We as Americans understand that the struggle for freedom and equality is rooted deeply in our nation’s history, and it has looked different for different genders and different races.
At some point, we as Americans have to hold ourselves accountable for the polarization that is happening in this country. We must come together and engage in courageous conversations with one another. Most importantly, we must listen. I believe there is unity in not only our community but in our country – but we must find the strength in our hearts to be agents of change. And we must come to terms that change may not always be comfortable – but it pales in the comparison to the lack of comfort that others may have endured for generations.
What happened last week to George Floyd – and countless others – cannot continue. We must speak up. This most recent catastrophic undermining of a man’s human rights was deeply heartbreaking, and we must seek justice for those whom we have lost in a similar fashion across this great country.
As your Councilwoman, I am committed to doing the work in my capacity as a representative to ensure that our community here in Virginia Beach never suffers this injustice. City Council needs to find new ways to increase hiring, retention, and promotion of people of color so that the VBPD reflects the demographics of our City. We need to continue to foster a transparent relationship and advocate for strong community policing measures. We must meet the challenge and bring institutional accountability to every level of public service.
Virginia Beach is fortunate to be one of the safest large cities in the US and I am grateful to our first responders who make this possible each and every day. We live in a great and diverse community and I know that we can listen to one another and be united together. I also believe that the tragedy in Minneapolis is an enormous disservice to the men and women who take the oath of a police officer, and to those who selflessly provide public safety and promote the common good of the community.
Being a parent has never been easy, but it serves as a reminder of our own humanity. The lessons we teach and the examples we serve will live with our children for a lifetime. And I’ve learned that teachable moments never call first – sometimes they show up unexpectedly. And while there will be conversations that may prove to be difficult, even heartbreaking – we owe it to our country’s future to see the past and the present through a different set of eyes.
We’re all in this together.