Us Versus Them: Thoughts From a Former Police Officer

“A fallen enemy may rise again, but the reconciled one is truly vanquished.”

Over the last several weeks, exchanges throughout the country have been flying over the prevalence of systemic racism and failures in the police system. However, there are much bigger systematic issues at play that not only are we not discussing, but in many cases are causing the conversations that are occurring to be ineffective and shallow.

The “us versus them” paradigm is nothing new to human beings. Since the beginning of time, we have found ways to classify and separate ourselves into groups, families, tribes, men, women, etc., which often make sense and are helpful designations in life. By definition, aligning yourself with a certain people causes you to automatically distinguish between you, or the “us,” and everyone else, who becomes “them.” This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem arises when the “other” becomes the enemy, simply because they are “other.” Rev. Ross Engle on this week’s Ringside attributes this to the dehumanizing of others, “We struggle to see our opponents as people, and so we don’t allow them to have a voice or see from their point of view, we don’t listen to what they have to say or even engage with them in a conversation because they’re not worth the time or the effort, because they’re not a person.”

In our current social and political climate, we see this “us versus them” pattern playing out with police officers and the general public, and the negative effects of it flow in both directions. Guest pastor and former police officer Rev. Tim Barkett spends a lot of time discussing these challenges in this week’s episode. The tendency of officers to interact both socially and professionally almost exclusively with other police officers often means their specific and often unpleasant narrative is continuously reflected back onto them, and those outside the circle are often criminalized. Similarly, members of the general public who never interact or converse with law enforcement, often have a hard time seeing these officers as people, who must face life’s challenges just like the rest of us. Tim recalls a conversation he had with a drill instructor at the police academy, who warned, “When people are screaming at you, they’re not screaming at you. They’re screaming at the copper on your chest. They’re screaming at the authority. They’re screaming at the uniform.” The inability of our society to reconcile ourselves to “them” through conversation, empathy, and understanding will tear us all apart. These are hard conversations, and they take a long-term investment, but the only way we can get rid of our enemy “others” is to stop considering them as “them.”

We should encourage more community interaction on the part of police, and more respect and understanding on the part of the public. There are always opportunities for us all to do better. But don’t be fooled. The big issue here is not a systemic problem with the police, rather it’s a systemic problem with humanity. “More legislation, taking away carotid restraints, defunding the police and all this stuff…all those things will never work. They will never do what they want them to do. The only thing that changes people is the Gospel. The only thing that fixes systems is Jesus Christ. The only way that this gets better is if the church steps up and acts like the church,” Tim reminds us. The church has a role to play here, and it is not out protesting or advocating on Capitol Hill. Our role is to proclaim Christ crucified, to encourage repentance and declare forgiveness. Our role is to actively care for the people that God has placed in our midst, not as one of “them” to whom we begrudgingly offer our charity but as one of “us” deserving of every ounce of our love and compassion.

This article is a brief examination of one of several topics discussed on this week’s episode of Ringside with the Preacher Men. Listen to Rev. Joel Hess, Rev. Ross Engel, Rev. Paul Koch, and special guest Rev. Tim Barkett, along with Tyler the Intern, duke it out over systemic issues in society, “Tim’s Take” on the ugliness of police work, what it’s like to care for an officer, and why you shouldn’t call them cops, on the latest full Ringside with the Preacher Men episode, “Thoughts from a Former Police Officer.”

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