Buckle up, folks, this one gets long.

So there was a thing yesterday and I made a hat and showed up and here’s the photographic evidence.

pussyhat-chicago-womens-march

There’s your knitting tie-in. And now we’re moving on.

Chicago was expecting maybe 75,000 people to show up and ended up with 250,000. It caught everyone, including the Chicago Police Department, completely off guard. The march was canceled since there were just too many people, but we flooded the streets anyway. When the foot traffic wasn’t moving, we stayed in place and had dance parties. Police blocked off the streets and 250,000 peaceful protesters do our thing. There were zero arrests made.

Later, news poured in from around the country, the same thing happening everywhere: Protesters obliterated the expected turnout. Police made no arrests.

I also took particular note of how local police departments were commenting on the march on social media. I started seeking them out, and what stood out most was that while they professionally imparted information about street closures, confirmed that no protest-related arrests were made, the tone was generally supportive.

Being pro-social justice does not mean I’m anti-cop

I am pro-social justice. I support Black Lives Matter. I’m vocal and unwavering in my opposition to systemic racism and my desire for the police to do better for the communities they serve.

I’m also the daughter of a retired cop. My sister and I leapt into his arms when he came home from work. When I was young, Dad occasionally took me to breakfast with his cop buddies. When we had barbecues, the friends we invited were cops. I remember once when Dad was in the academy, our car broke down right after we dropped him off. We rode home, about 30 miles back to Lincoln, in the back of a state police car.

Fast forward to November 2016 when I attended my first protest, a rally in support of the water defenders at Standing Rock. I watched the police carefully. As we marched up State Street, the CPD officers rode their bicycles alongside and ahead of us to clear the way and keep everyone safe, and I was impressed – it was very professional and organized. After, as I walked back to the train station, I made a point of stopping to thank every officer in my path for being there. Every one of them smiled and said, “You’re welcome.”

I don’t tell that story to lecture people about how to interact with cops. I tell it because I think it says a lot about who I am and where I come from. I’m a white woman, and with that comes the knowledge that even if I hadn’t been raised in law enforcement culture, my experience with police is driven by privilege and is likely to remain entirely genial.

I also tell it because when I see all of those officers, I imagine their kids at home who will be so excited to jump into their arms like I did. I want them to get home safe because I know how much that meant to me and my own family. Every interaction I have with police is driven by how I would have wanted someone in the same situation to treat my dad.

But wait, there’s more!

Now before you get mad at me for getting all misty about law enforcement, let me tell you two more stories.

The first is about one of my uncles was also a cop, but decided to leave law enforcement after a few years. As an adult, I learned that he’d been working undercover, had pissed someone off in the department, and his cover was compromised as retaliation. He left when it looked like things might get dangerous for his family.

The second is an anecdote from a friend who followed a dream to join the CPD. When I caught up with him a year or two later, he’d left. He told me about witnessing firsthand the kind of abuses that the DOJ outlined last week in their incredibly damning report on policing abuses in Chicago. He decided he couldn’t be a part of that. And speaking as someone who’s known a lot of cops, I have no doubt he would have been excellent. Perhaps that’s what’s saddest of all, that good people who feel called to serve are leaving the job discouraged by what they find once they’re on the inside.

Still think I’ve got a rosy warped white-girl view of police?

The argument for better policing doesn’t end with the Black Lives Matter platform.

I’ve known a lot of good cops in my life. I’ve also seen police corruption hurt people I care about. So when good cops are doing a good job, I’m holding back the urge to go hug everyone. And when Black Lives Matter gets loud about police reforms, I’m there for it. When unarmed black kids keep ending up dead in police encounters, the response should not be to blame the dead or to circle the wagons around the police. The right thing to do is to look at each situation at both a micro and macro level – what went wrong with this particular incident? How does that compare to the larger pattern of black deaths happening in police interactions? Where can we improve? I know cops aren’t perfect, and I want them to do better. I want everyone to be safer and to get it right. The importance of tackling police corruption where it exists, developing better policing methods, and making sure that our police are well-trained, is impossible to understate.

I believe that the “Blue Lives Matter” viewpoint actually hurts cops. It’s purporting that they shouldn’t ever be questioned, an assumption that seems partially predicated on the wrongheaded view that modern policing needs no further improvement, even when those improvements could save more officers’ lives. That’s only part of it, of course – Black Lives Matter speaks pretty well for their side, and I back them on it since dismantling the systemic racism built into current policing systems will save their lives. Did I mention I want everyone to be safe and walk away alive? Everyone means everyone.

For those of us close to both sides, it’s a lot more complex than us versus them. It’s why I bristle at the reductionist rhetoric of “Blue Lives Matter.” It’s not that they don’t matter, but that it’s come to represent a scolding of anyone who dares question whether or not we really could be doing better. And that’s wrong.

The answer to “Can I/we do better,” no matter what you do for a living, is always yes. I believe in continuous self-improvement, that learning should never stop. Even when policing is good, it can always be better. Challenging them to be better, for me, is an act of love. The safest interaction between the police and the communities they serve is one where guns are never drawn at all – so how can we get there?

The Women’s March was my third march in so many months and, getting back to my opening, the police response moved me. Grateful that they were keeping us safe as we exercised our First Amendment rights. Saddened to understand that if there had been more black and brown people in the crowd than white that the response might not have been so supportive.

There’s a lot to fix and improve, but I want to look at this as a positive sign, an example of how law enforcement can help to protect all of our voices. So I want to call this moment out, gather it up so we can look back at it and see what is possible, how it always should be. Here you go.

Chicago, Illinois

 

Los Angeles, California

 

 

 

Washington, DC

 

 

 

Denver, Colorado

 

 

 

 

New York City, New York

 

Seattle, Washington

 

 

 

Boston, Massachusetts

 

 

Portland, Oregon

 

 

 

St. Paul, Minnesota

This is the only account of an arrest that I’ve found so far – and it was a counter-protester who was assaulting marchers.

 

 

Madison, Wisconsin

 

 

Atlanta, Georgia

 

St. Louis, Missouri

 

 

Oakland, California

 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 

 

Austin, Texas

 

San Diego, California

 

 

 

Houston, Texas

 

 

Northampton, Massachusetts

“Luckily, we’re the type of organization that specializes in handling surprises. It’s kind of our thing.”

Okay, so I stopped at this point since smaller protests happened in smaller cities that don’t have social media that’s quite so robust as the big ones, but you get the idea. Post any others you see in comments!

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