Navigating grief, hope and fear

Navigating grief, hope and fearIt’s been a difficult last couple of weeks. Although the stressful impacts of COVID-19 and ongoing aftershocks continue to rattle the nerves of our community (figuratively and literally), the emotional toll of grappling with the crumbling pillars upon which our society is built has shaken many of us to the core.

“The most sacred of the duties of a government is to do equal and impartial justice to all citizens.” While Thomas Jefferson may be a fallible human, the truth of this still resonates more than 200 years later.

For the millions who watched as a man accused of a petty crime was casually dispatched during a routine arrest, our bearing witness demands contemplation at the very least.

Proponents of the Black Lives Matter movement note that this is not an isolated event, but a trend in systemic injustice that must be evaluated and corrected. And to succeed, the black community must be supported by all Americans.

On Saturday, nearly a thousand citizens of diverse races, backgrounds and belief systems supported a march from LeRoy Jackson to City Hall. Leaders in the effort made it clear their statement was against racism, not against our local force. There was no fighting. No call for rioting or destruction. No evidence of “bussed in” participants.

As journalists, we are constantly reminded to maintain distance to any event we are reporting on. As a citizen, I could not help but feel pride that my community had pulled off so thoughtful and peaceful a presentation in light of so much controversy on the topic.

About that same time, Sarah Jackson — whom I have known since eighth grade, when we went to school here together — posted on Facebook some reflections on her career spent in law enforcement. She pointed to a common enemy for all “sides” of the debate: fear.

On an emotional level, fear can be difficult to overcome. But academically we know one of the best ways to combat that insidious element is to increase our understanding of those who think and experience life differently than we do. Maybe that is why our community can come together without violence, I thought — we share a desire to understand one other.

That afternoon, Sarah posted again. Her friend and comrade had been killed by an improvised explosive device during an ambush. I was further disheartened to wake up the following morning to learn that our “peaceful demonstration” was marred by the discovery of anti-cop graffiti left throughout the city.

Grief had turned to hope had turned to … if not fear, at least discouragement. There has to be a way out of this, though. And I think building understanding (and the acknowledgement that each of us cannot help but possess gaps) is where it begins.

— Rebecca Neipp

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"Yesterday I had about a mile walk through the city from a protest to my car. I was in uniform and reflecting on the things I heard. No other deputies or officers with me. If you’re another cop, you know what risk that is.

I do the ‘cop thing’ where I look inside every car that passes. You know why? Because I could be a target. I look at the faces and many of them look at me with anger and disgust, while many look at me with appreciation.

That got me thinking about that familiar feeling like my badge may as well be a target.

Let’s talk about fear and being human.

Do you feel like you have one of these painted on your back when you walk out the door?

Then you might be an American police officer. But then again, you might be a black person in America.

What happens when two fearful humans interact?

This fear doesn’t care about statistics or likelihood or the ‘good ones’ or media bias. There are some in both groups whose initial reaction is to invalidate those feelings from ‘the other’.

I know which fear I have felt, and after listening I can see that it’s similar.

I fear for my children when I send them to school because who knows what cop-hating person will find out they’re cops’ kids.

So when I hear mothers speak about the fear they have sending their black children out into the world, that feels familiar to me.

I fear when I send my husband off to work, knowing the risk he takes and I feel helpless because I want to be there to protect him. That also sounds familiar in the other shoes.

I’m not supposed to admit it, but there’s a fear (we call it ‘hyper vigilance’ and ‘situational awareness’ just to avoid the F word and maintain toughness) when I put on that uniform and walk down a city street.

I know the fear on the police side of the riot line. It’s real. I know they look scary and mean, but there’s a human in there and when they’re asked to stand next to a brother and sister and face a large, angry crowd who wants to harm them, there’s a heart in there that speeds up. Will they get overrun? Is there a shooter out there? Will the brick be thrown?

I could go on.

If you’d like to comment in support of peaceful protestors, in support of police, or to ask for understanding I’d love to engage.

But if you comment anti-cop or thinly veiled racist crap, I’ll hide it. I just want everyone to start seeing the humanity of ‘the other’."

— Sarah Jackson

Pictured: Sarah Jackson (center), pictured with her husband and children. — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2020-06-12