I was asked to share a few words and a prayer at a local “Back the Blue Rally” in our city. In light of the recent cop-killings in our country (77 since January, 20 in July alone), police are on edge, and communities are trying to find ways to show some support for law enforcement. Some good things have happened already in Hot Springs: some prayer gatherings, a few churches inviting police to come rub shoulders with them. This “Back the Blue Rally” was another attempt to let the police know the community has their backs. That said: the following are my remarks and prayer.
Samuel Tucker McCallum was the City Marshal in Lake Village, Arkansas. He had served in that office just over a month when on October 11, 1928, in answering a disturbance call at a local coffee shop, he was ambushed by a drunk who shot and killed him. He left behind a wife and six children. One of those children, the 14 year old, was my dad. Samuel McCallum was my grandfather. No wonder I was taught to back the blue.
I guess I grew up in a bubble of sorts. My family left Little Rock when I was 8 and we ended up moving in 1964 to a small town called Branson, Missouri. Not much crime in Branson in those days. Not much of a police force either. There were two or three cops as I recall. Their headquarters was under the city library. The policemen were friendly and pretty much knew everybody. I remember the one named Hoss because he was a big fellow and reminded local folks of Hoss Cartwright on Bonanza. The police would smile and wave. And if you got in trouble they treated you more like a friend than a felon.
My younger brother got caught with a few other teenagers for pulling a teenage prank. They took some lady’s “Skunk Crossing” yard ornament as a joke. She saw them, called the police, gave a description of the car, and not long after, the cop found them and pulled them over. He lined them up, got their names, and when my brother identified himself, the policeman said, “Aren’t you Joan’s boy? She’s not gonna like this.” No arrest was made. The policeman followed the boys back to the lady’s house where they returned her “Skunk Crossing” ornament and apologized for stealing it. He then instructed them to go home and tell their parents about this. “I know most of your parents,” he said, “so if you don’t tell them, I’ll find out, and we’ll have a problem.” That is the kind of policemen to which I was first exposed in my life. It felt a lot like the cops I got to know from Mayberry: kind, wise, put people first kind of officers. Add to that, television shows of the day like Dragnet and Adam 12, The Mod Squad and Ironside, and police were real heroes to me and so many others.
My mother taught us to respect the police. “They are an authority. They are your friends. You can trust them. Treat them with respect. Do what they tell you and you’ll be all right.” I grew up in a bubble.
That bubble burst a little bit when I saw images on the evening news of policemen turning fire hoses on peaceful black protesters in the Civil Rights movement. I didn’t understand that. It didn’t make sense to me. That did not jibe with my experience with police nor my image of how policemen were supposed to treat people. That may have been the first time it occurred to me that even among the police there could be some bad apples in the bunch (which, of course, is true for plumbers and teachers and politicians and preachers too).
I guess I was growing up. And as I became acquainted with police officers I realized they had the same problems as everybody else: trying to make a happy marriage, worrying about their kids’ grades and friends, making ends meet and taking off-duty security gigs to do it, just making their way in a world that can be kind of harsh sometimes. So add a stressful home to a stressful job and it doesn’t take much for stress to become distress. And these days there is the added pressure of all these cop killings going on and groups chanting for cops to be killed—a pretty lousy use of free speech if you ask me and all done under the protection of the police they despise. This climate can make even a routine traffic stop a matter of life and death. I suspect this cop-hate climate has most every policeman a little on edge these days. I don’t know how they do this job, and to do it as well as our city, county, and state law enforcement do it.
Most Americans feel that way—which is why we’re here this morning. After the Dallas shootings I remember thinking: “I learned something about myself today: I take the police for granted. I need to express more appreciation and offer more prayers.” My guess is that speaks for a lot of us. We have a deep appreciation and respect for our law enforcement officers, the sacrifices they make for us, and the risks they take for us day by day by day. So we back the blue. It would never occur to me to do anything else. But it’s easy for me to feel this way because that’s the way I was raised to feel, and I haven’t personally experienced any reason to feel otherwise.
I can’t speak for those who were raised to feel a different way, or those with first-hand experience to believe that the police are an enemy rather than a friend, that they are out to get you rather than help you, that they assume your guilty rather than innocent. That’s not my experience. I can’t speak for them. They will have to speak for themselves.
And even though it’s painful to be caught in this “black lives matter / blue lives matter” war of words in our culture, maybe one of the hopeful signs in all of this is that people are speaking up. We’re getting these grievances on the table. And more importantly, in many places they are not just speaking up to each other or about each other; they are speaking with each other—which is happening here in Hot Springs—building bridges of mutual respect and trust and teamwork that adds more light than heat, more hope than hurt, and makes things better and safer for everyone.
Don’t you long for the day when black and blue won’t be viewed as a bruise on society but the very colors of justice that rolls down like mighty waters and cleans up all of our acts?
Father, it takes a lot of courage and a certain kind of edge to seek a career in law enforcement. If just anybody could do it, maybe more of us would. We can’t begin to imagine the stress they are under in these days and the worry that chips away at the peace and joy of their families. So very few of us serve in occupations where a kiss goodbye could be the last and where a return home at the end of a shift is met with a sigh of relief and a quiet prayer of thanks.
Though our police are like us civilians in many ways, their lives are different from the rest of us in significant ways. We get to run from danger; they don’t. We get to avoid high-crime neighborhoods; they don’t. We get to choose the kind of people with whom we spend time; they don’t. We can close our eyes to the seedier side of our communities; they can’t.
Father, please give us a deeper respect for police and appreciation for all they do for us. Forgive us when we take them for granted or treat them with contempt and anger—even when they write us a ticket we deserve. Our city, our state, our highways, our lakes would be chaos if it were not for their presence. Thank you for the order and stability they bring to our world.
We pray for them today. We pray you would give every officer …
a kind heart, a keen eye, and a firm hand,
a respect for and understanding of all those they serve,
a distinct blindness to the color of anyone’s skin,
a humble heart that longs for justice,
and the wisdom to know the right and do the right, especially when they have to decide all that in a split-second.
We pray you would bless them with …
the courage to take the risks required of them,
a heart not hardened by all the evil that they see
a salary they can live on
satisfaction in their work,
and a sense that they make a difference in their communities, that their communities are better places because they are in them.
And, Lord, if it’s not asking too much, we ask for …
a supportive constituency,
the opportunities to build bridges toward those most suspicious of them,
cordiality with the public they serve,
collegiality with their co-workers,
and a sympathetic friend who can help them process what they feel.
Would you please get them safely home at the end of each day to a family that loves them and supports them and doesn’t live in fear when they go off to work? Please bless their families. Would you mend the frayed edges of their nerves with peace, and surprise them with joy?
And finally, we ask you would bless each officer with …
a long, healthy, and peaceful life,
and a sense that they need you to be their best as men and women and as officers of the law, so that in the words of the prophet Micah, they may do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you, God.
In Jesus’ name, amen.