Police officers and George Floyd: What side are u on?

George Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin, a year ago yesterday.  Just a few miles from where our family lived for 18 years.  A huge loss for all who knew Mr. Floyd.  And a lot of years in prison for Mr. Chauvin.  Tragic on multiple levels.  It disrupted us as a society, substantially, right in the middle of Covid-19!  Now the court case is over.  And our world is a bit different.  It seems many have a slightly new level of awareness. Things are in flux.

It is rare for a police officer to be convicted for killing a person, whatever color their skin.  Since that day, I have heard many stories about the level of fear that many brown and black skinned people live with on the streets.  It saddens me.  It is real.  We’ve also read about some of the grisly-hidden-history of horrific and unjust things that happened to our brown and black skinned brothers and sisters years ago.  It angers me.  I believe those who are reporting that history.

Some say the police force is broken and needs a serious overhaul.  Some say it is just a few bad apples.  Many who live in the urban core would say cops are fundamentally anti-black.

I have also heard stories about cops who are traumatized and feel unsupported as they do one of the toughest jobs in America.  According to the Minneapolis Tribune, over 150 police officers said they were suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder last July.  They feel unsupported and many are retiring or just quitting.  This is sad. It is real. No doubt many are doing good work and doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.

Cops go into neighborhoods where violent crime is common, right here in Minneapolis.  Some of them might say “We are not anti-black, we just know that in some areas violent crime is worse when minority populations and poverty gets concentrated…and we get extra anxious.  We are human, we get emotionally triggered.”

Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Here is one idea:  cops are systemically racist, they kill more black people than white people, per capita.
Here is another opposing idea:  cops are not systemically racist, just doing dangerous work and sometimes making mistakes, huge, unbelievably painful mistakes.  They become extra afraid when working in areas where violent crime is extra high.

Can you hold both of those ideas, and see the truth in each of them? And still function?  Can you empathize with the activists in the streets and the cops who are scared?  If so, Mr. Fitzgerald would say you have first-rate intelligence.

This ability to withhold judgment, and hold two ideas at the same time, not choosing one over the other, is what powerful leaders need to do.  It is the kind of skill that will help you create exceptional work cultures. It is what all of us need to do.

Where in your worlds are you choosing just one side, and limiting your own power?  Where are you able to hold two ideas and still function?

p.s.  My new book Personal Accountability and POWER:  How Contractors Can Build a Stronger Safety Culture, is on sale today, $13.99 on Amazon.  Click here.

About Tom Esch

Tom Esch works with health care companies, counties, cities, construction companies, business analysts, attorneys, executives, owners, managers and non-profit executives to grow interpersonal awareness and foster effective communication.