Good policing starts with self-policing. In all encounters, police officers need to be trained to respond not only to the problems, but even more to the persons. That’s true whether they are dealing with victims or perpetrators. Always keep the Golden Rule foremost: Treat others as you want — and expect — to be treated. It’s the only way our sworn officers of the law can truly serve and protect. It’s the best way to build the trust that is so desperately needed all around our country, especially in communities of color.

Using combat-trained troops for law enforcement is exactly the wrong thing to do. Soldiers’ encounters are with enemies of our country, not fellow citizens. So their training is to attack when ordered to do so — no hesitation, no questions asked. Their tools are force, even deadly force, not conversation. 

In light of that, the widespread trend of militarizing police forces throughout the country is very troubling, and counter-productive. Far too often we have seen “law and order” turned into lawless order.

In 1961, I was sent to the Panama Canal Zone to serve a year-long internship at the Lutheran church with locations at either end of the canal. My predecessor oriented me to my work and to the general culture both within the CZ and in the Republic of Panama. While driving from one church to the other on the first day, I saw heavily-armed soldiers standing beside the road. 

“Is there a problem?” I asked him. “No, it’s just a checkpoint,” he said, as we were waved through. “Why soldiers?” I asked. “They’re the Guardia Nacional — both soldiers and police,” he said. I remember the chill I felt, in spite of the heat. I thought, “I’m glad that kind of thing can’t happen in the United States.” It was such a banana-republic kind of thing.

Now President Trump has brought us so low, ordering military occupation of Washington D.C. Some have been deployed in heavy combat gear with no identification. They are anonymous, even secret. And the memories of those long-ago days in Panama came flooding back, chilling me even more deeply because it was here. It’s now. And it’s so wrong!

“Democracy” and “domination” do not belong in the same sentence, much less in the mindset of those who lead us. So aware and committed citizens have no choice but to call them to account.

Fred Reklau is a Lutheran minister and resident of Oak Park.

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