|The Young Irreverent Psychologist and Officer Sheppard|
I recognize writing this that these were the lessons taught to little white boys and girls in my suburban neighborhood. Little brown, black, yellow, or red boys and girls learned radically different lessons. I've learned over the years from friends and patients that people of color learned to be afraid of police officers. They couldn't be trusted. They weren't friends.
Yesterday I had an experience that really shook me. Maggie the therapy dog and I were walking across Harvard Yard. In my pocket was an envelope of banking material that was in a signed, addressed, sealed, and stamped envelope. Somewhere along the way to the post office that letter either fell out of my pocket or was removed from my pocket by someone.
I retraced my steps back through Harvard Yard, down Massachusetts Avenue, and to my office. I realized that the one place I didn't look was in the Old Burial Ground. On our way to the post office we stopped and played with a woman and her young child. That's where I noticed the envelope was missing. I neglected to look carefully there and if it had fallen out of my pocket that was a good place to look.
|Safety Town with Julie and Officer Sheppard|
A mother and son were asking him for directions to a museum through his car window. I offered the two some additional directions and then approached the officer.
"Officer can I ask you for some help?"
He responded "no" and proceeded to roll up the window of his cruiser and started to read the Kindle that was resting in his lap.
Now I could have needed all sorts of different kinds of help. I could have been assaulted or seen someone assaulted. I could have been robbed. I could have have witnessed all sorts of different crimes. Maybe I was lost and just needed directions. It doesn't really matter what I needed. I approached a public official in an uniform and asked for help. He said no. This is not acceptable under any circumstance, any time.
I was appalled, deeply offended, and beyond angry. More angry than I have been in years.
I shouted through his closed car window "really, you are going to close your window on me?" He didn't look up. He read his Kindle and ignored me. I was even more enraged, but quickly realized that he was a police officer and I was a civilian. Being angry, and banging on his window (which is what I wanted to do) was neither effective or appropriate.
I called the police dispatch line. I told them I had a highly disturbing interaction with one of their officers. In the course of the next 15 minutes I was put into contact with two very professional and responsible Lieutenants who asked me several questions, took me seriously, and apologized for the behavior of the officer that "did not appear consistent with what is acceptable."
My complaint would be taken up with the officer by his commanding officer. I also was given the option to make a formal complaint. I have chosen to make that formal complaint.
I was a middle aged white man, possessing two masters degrees and a doctorate, with a dog, walking through Harvard Yard. In many ways, I was the epitome of white privilege and power. At least I can pass as having that much privilege and power. I got to thinking about what other people might have experienced had they come to this officer asking for help. What might a young black male in a hoodie encounter? How about an immigrant that doesn't speak English? How about some future patient of mine that is psychotic, delusional, or manic? Would this officer respond, protect, serve, and help? Would he have closed his window on someone with less power or someone who is more disenfranchised?
|Safety Town Graduation with the Captian|
I recognize the enormity of my privilege here. I recognize that I have the power and freedom to speak up, to respond appropriately, and to create change. I recognize that many in this same situation would not be able to make the choices I can make.
With this in mind I am responding. I'm responding because I can and I'm responding because I know there are others who cannot. I'm responding because if I ask my patients to do the hard thing, I have to demand that I do the hard thing too. Most of all, I'm responding because I don't want to live in a world where requests for help are ignored.
It's not okay for a police officer to close their window on anyone asking for help so they can read their Kindle in peace.
I had a fantastic conversation earlier this week with a high ranking official in the police department. I was treated with courtesy, respect, and felt like this issue was taken seriously. Presented with a multitude of options to seek address, I chose what I thought was most appropriate for this situation and am satisfied that my actions made a small difference to make the world a little better place.
|The proud graduate, ready to look both ways before crossing|