JACKSON, Wyo. — As protests against police brutality, triggered most recently by the death of George Floyd in police custody, continue to pop up in communities across the country, including one recently in Jackson, local authorities are organizing a ‘brown bag lunch’ get-together Thursday to discuss concerns and promote an open dialogue.
Police Chief Todd Smith helped organize the event that will take place Thursday at noon in the Town Council chambers. Seating will be limited so the event is going to be live-streamed by the Town of Jackson.
Several representatives from local law enforcement agencies are expected to be in attendance including Teton County Sheriff’s Office, Wyoming Highway Patrol, and the Grand Teton National Park.
Meanwhile, Chief Smith posted an open letter to his department that reads well to the general public. Read it here in its entirety:
To the department,
Having recently returned from a much needed “off-the-grid” camping trip, I returned to the real world to find that Covid-19 was not the only challenge facing our nation. Thinking nothing could top what we had been enduring the past couple of months with the whole pandemic and self-isolation situation, I sat in horror as I watched what was unfolding on the five o’clock news; protests, riots, burning of our cities, and a general condemnation of the police. I had yet to see the George Floyd video to know what had triggered all this chaos in our country. Then I saw the video, and everything came into focus for me.
As I watched a person dressed similarly to us, supposedly standing for all the same things that we stand for, a representative of our chosen profession taking the life of another human being unnecessarily, it made me sick. It made me saddened for Mr. Floyd, and for his family, knowing what they were about to endure. I knew that this one decision on the part of this person would cost the lives of many good police officers across our nation, because that is what happens when evil rears its head in this form. The innocent are the ones who pay the price.
It also made me beyond angry, knowing that the actions of one [expletive] would unwind the great work of many who proudly wear a badge and honor what it stands for each time they come to work. That this person could steal from us what we value the most, our integrity and our commitment to protect life and property, even if that means sacrificing our own someday. I also knew that we would not be judged as individuals but instead we would all be lumped together and stereotyped to be like this person because it’s an easy assumption to make without greater information to contradict it.
I have come to realize that there is something greater that is broken in our society and in law enforcement. Despite that fact, my personal experience has been mostly a positive one, working with some outstanding men and women over the years who believe in the work that they are doing for our community and believe there is still honor in being on the right side of a conflict.
I know that law enforcement is like any other profession, there are good departments and some that fall short of that description. There are even individuals within a “good department” that do not approach their job in the same manner as you and I. They walk up to that line of justifying their actions that are often questionable, all in the name of officer safety or something similar. But what they really suffer from is a lack of creativity in how to solve a problem; a lack of knowing how to use their mind and heart instead of their brawn every time; a lack of empathy for other human beings; and a warped sense of what wearing a uniform and badge really means. They embrace the “us against them” mentality, instead of realizing that it only makes us less safe when we lose the trust of those whom we serve.
But none of that matters now. We get to start all over again building the trust and respect of those in our community, even though the majority of us would never think to do that to another person. This guy’s knee on the neck of George Floyd was the equivalent of all of our knees being the ones snuffing the life out of Mr. Floyd. At least, that is how society will view it.
Though much ground has been made up in recent years to maintain honor in our profession and to keep out the proverbial “bad apple” from infiltrating our ranks, there is still work to be done to rid ourselves once and for all of those whom would tarnish the badge and cause the rest of us to be at risk because of it. From how we select a candidate, to how we train the new recruit, and the leadership and tutelage we provide along the way to keep us on track, it all matters now more than ever. If we lose this battle, it might be the one thing that we don’t come back from. The relative safety we get to enjoy may be gone forever if we don’t pull together to show the rest of the world that being a police officer is not about anything other than service and sacrifice, not about dominance over those whom we serve. Yes, we have to be safe and aware of our surroundings, but if we lose sight of what makes us safe, we will all lose in the end if we don’t change our approach to the problem.
We have to stop being so fearful that someone is going to hurt us that we instill fear in them instead, and as a result the situation becomes less safe for us all. We have to stop acting like robots and act more like human beings, fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. We have to stop talking and spend a little more time listening to people. We have to know that everything we do matters and impacts those around us. And we have to know that the little stuff unchecked will lead to the big stuff tearing us down through a lack of trust.
Now more than ever, leadership has got to be part of our DNA. We have to be willing to step up and do the right thing when it matters most. From the decisions we make on the street, to how we treat people both internally and externally, and how we go about holding ourselves accountable for our actions when we fall short.
The honor will come in doing the right thing when no one is watching. And if you are that person who can’t see the forest for the trees and have no idea what I’m talking about, then do the rest of us a big favor and go to work in a different industry and save us all the hassle of trying to fix you… honestly its exhausting.
I continue to respect those who serve and the difficulty of the job that faces you each shift. I respect those who are willing to show up each day to be part of something bigger than themselves and make a difference for Jackson. Your job has always been difficult, but it just got a lot harder. Look out for each other and look out for those whom we serve. Go and earn the respect that we all want and deserve and bring honor back to our profession one call at a time.
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