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Why We Shouldn't Shut Down Stories of Good Cops

When I was growing up, my dad had long hair and a scruffy beard that hid the kindness in his face. At 6 feet 6 inches, he was a formidable sight. I remember being embarrassed from time to time when he would come to school events, and other parents who didn't know him would look at him as though he was a threat. The only thing that usually kept that embarrassment at bay was the indisputable knowledge that he was, in fact, one of the good guys.

During those long hair and scruffy beard days, my father was working as an undercover cop. In his 25-year-career, he also did stints with the K9 unit and on a bike. His last few years, from the time I was in high school to the point when he retired, he was a homicide detective. I remember going to his office once and seeing a room with walls made entirely of dry erase boards. There were names, floor to ceiling, on every space available. I asked him about those names, and he told me they were homicides—all either unsolved or not yet to the point of conviction. I know there were names on those walls that still haunt him to this day.

After he retired, my dad went straight back to work for the city he loves. He runs one of the jails now and is still considered to be one of the good guys—honorable and genuinely well-intentioned in everything he does.

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I was always proud of him. But growing up, I also always knew that his life was forever in danger. This was accentuated mostly by the fact that my uncle, my father's brother, sustained severe injuries while on duty back in the '80s. He had been manning a road block when he was run down by a man who later admitted his entire goal had been to "take a cop out." My uncle died when I was 2 years old, leaving behind a 6-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son who now serves as a police officer with the same city both our dads wore a badge for.

I have to admit that the tensions surrounding #BlackLivesMatter over the last year, especially, have had me on edge. The stories aimed at demonizing all police officers, the reports of "activists" intentionally seeking out officers to kill (and those celebrating in hospitals over those deaths) as well as the shifting climate that has put more officer lives in danger have all made me nervous, sad and yes … angry.

In our current climate, standing up for police officers and honoring their lives and sacrifice has become tantamount to being a racist.

I'm torn because, as someone who is generally a bleeding heart liberal, I sympathize with the message of #BlackLivesMatter. I know there is a systemic racial disparity in this country that needs to be addressed, and that there are conscious and unconscious biases that play a part in the disproportionate number of black men and women who are dying as a result of police confrontations—that minorities are arrested, convicted and handed sentences far more severe than their white peers are given for the same crimes. I know these issues need to be addressed, and that there have been a handful of cops who have made some horrific and appalling decisions that have resulted in the loss of lives that never should have been taken.

But I also know from experience that there are good cops dying as well. Every week in this country. And I know that that their lives, their stories, matter too.

So when Steven Hildreth, Jr., a black man living in Tucson, Arizona, wrote a viral Facebook post last week, I was grateful. The post was about his encounter with two police officers who pulled him over while he was carrying a concealed weapon.

Spoiler alert: everyone walked away safe.

Hildreth wrote to provide his perspective as a black man of the overall good police officers do, as well as to share his opinion about the dual responsibility all citizens have to ensure those encounters end safely.

My favorite part about what he wrote?

"Police officers are people, too. By far and large, most are good people and they're not out to get you."

I was grateful not just for his voice and perspective on an issue that hits so close to home for me, but also for his bravery in saying what a lot of people have been afraid to say. Because in our current climate, standing up for police officers and honoring their lives and sacrifice has become tantamount to being a racist.

Of course, not all have been pleased with his message. Even as a black man himself, he has been discounted as diminishing the lost lives of black men who were shot and killed unjustly by officers. He's had to break down the legality of officers requesting his weapon during a traffic stop (and defend why he was so willing to comply). He's dealt with the irony of a growing number of white #BlackLivesMatter supporters trying to dictate how he, as a black man, should be presenting his experiences and opinions. And he's even been accused of making the entire story up, despite the fact that the officers and department involved have stood by his version of events.

Because for some, it is easier to believe that this black man is a liar than that his voice, opinion and experience could simply have differed from what seems to be the more popular narrative: cops are trigger-happy racists.

While everyone knows the names and stories of those men who have died unjustly at the hands of bad cops, most of us couldn't name off the officers in our own hometowns who have died in the line of duty.

His most recent response to those who have bombarded him with hate in the days since he shared his story is worth reading. It speaks to the extremism he has personally witnessed over the last few days, and how that extremism distracts from the cause originally intended by #BlackLivesMatter—how it may even lend to a more dangerous environment for all involved.

And again, I am grateful.

I know that black lives matter. I support it. You will get no argument from me when it comes to fighting for justice against those men in blue who have so greatly misused their power.

But where the message loses me is when some supporters of #BlackLivesMatter try to shut down stories of positive interactions with officers. Or when I sit back and realize that while everyone knows the names and stories of those men who have died unjustly at the hands of bad cops, most of us couldn't name off the officers in our own hometowns who have died in the line of duty. How many of us know the stories of those men and women who have died unjustly while trying to serve and protect locally, let alone on a national level? Their lives, their stories, matter too. But no one seems to remember them. No one seems to want to acknowledge their sacrifice. No one seems to care.

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This message is important to me, and not because I'm a racist or tone deaf or because I don't care about black lives—but because I know for a fact that most cops are not the bad guys they are being painted to be as of late.

Their stories, their lives, and their sacrifices matter too.

Photographs by: Leah Campbell and Steven Hildreth, Jr. / Facebook

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