Policing Our Attitudes About the Police
By Zainib Ahmad
I never thought I would dress up like a firefighter, oxygen tank and all, and put out a car fire, visit the dispatch center where 911 calls are handled or fire an actual shotgun. For the past month I have been doing that and more while spending my Thursdays at the fire station in Lino Lakes.
I am one of eight women and twelve men participating in a nine-week Citizens Public Safety Academy sponsored by the Lino Lakes Police Department and Fire Station. This experience is teaching me a lot about the hard work these brave men and women do, often putting their lives on the line on a daily basis.
I had heard about excessive use of force by the police and so it was interesting to learn that an officer has to fully justify his or her use of force, even in a potentially deadly situation. They have to give many warnings before they approach someone. When using handcuffs, the police officer has to adjust the tightness to an acceptable level and document all the procedures he uses. In the Academy we had the chance to respond to dangerous situations in a simulated environment and found out that the police have precious little time to think and react — literally a few seconds.
A few days ago we learned about investigative techniques, home safety and volunteer opportunities. I was surprised and impressed to learn that in Anoka County, where the emergency and non-emergency numbers are both 911, calling the police should not be reserved for emergencies. We can and should dial 911 to report even a broken street light or graffiti, as well as any suspicious activity. If we come home to find the door unlocked, we can call 911 and have an officer come to check out our home for our safety. The police in Lino Lakes offer free home safety evaluations and encourage citizens to use their service and find out how to make their homes more secure. I also found out that there are many people who participate in neighborhood watches in Lino Lakes, plus serve as volunteers with the police force and assist in traffic snags, training and school events.
I am very happy to have this opportunity to meet these dedicated people and learn more about my community. I also think it would be wonderful if more Muslims took the initiative to start a neighborhood watch, or participate in National Night Out in August, when the police and fire departments visit block parties. By doing this, we would foster good relations with our local
law enforcement and give the impression that Muslims are law abiding and peace-loving. Muslim mothers staying home with their kids may be the only ones home on their street during the day. Those mothers can serve as important eyes and ears for the neighborhood and report anything fishy to the police. Looking out for each other is part of being a good neighbor, community member and Muslim.
Some people grumble about getting speeding tickets simply because they look Muslim. They seem to overlook the fact that they were indeed speeding. I think only Allah knows the truth of a person’s intention: are they acting out of prejudice or simply doing their job? Our religion advises us to think well of others unless we have a specific reason not to. As we hate generalizations about Muslims, we should be careful in how we think about others. I think part of our negative image of the police may come from the baggage many of us bring here from our native countries, where the police are not so helpful.
The only relatively negative encounter I have had with a police officer was when my daughter was in kindergarten. Each day when I picked her up I saw the police officer at the school. He was stolid, unsmiling and silent and somehow made me feel as if I were under suspicion! Now I look back and think, I passed him every single day. Why did I never stop to smile, introduce myself and make small talk? It was probably because I took his unfriendly attitude as the last word, and never tried to be friendly myself.
I find myself at fault. Muslims need to be proactive in smiling and saying hello.
The next time I am guilty of speeding and get pulled over, I hope I will remember all the things our police force does for us, all the times I was sleeping safe at home while they were patrolling the streets in all kinds of weather, watching over the garage door that I carelessly left open. I do not think I will be thrilled to pay the fine but I hope I remember they are just doing their job.
I can’t be alone in having two kids who are quick to point at each other and say, “he did it, she did it” when they break my household law. It drives me crazy. I know I cannot always be fair to both. Plus fairness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. I wish they would just stop arguing and apologize for what they did. One way Muslims can see the good side of the police and show them our peaceful and law-abiding tendencies is to participate in community policing, such as practiced by the LLPD, in which police are active in fostering close ties in the community and want the community to respond and do their share.
Sometimes this means changing our own habits, thoughts and attitudes, which can improve a situation in which we may feel like victims. When I find myself stuck in a cycle of negatives I am reminded of the story of a village simpleton. When he unpacked his lunch at work, he would grumble each day because it was always a cheese sandwich. Finally a friend who was tired of the complaining said, “Just ask your wife to make you something different.” “What wife?” came the surprised response. “I’m not even married. I make my own lunch every day.”
A change of attitude may help us to see that while they are not perfect, the police can be really helpful, and provide us with invaluable services on a daily basis.
–Zainib Ahmad is a mother of two, writer and community volunteer who lives in Lino Lakes.