by Keith Turner
[Trigger warning: domestic abuse]
Our community has a difficult and sometimes violent relationship with police officers. A pivotal moment in our community was a series of confrontations with police officers at the Stonewall Inn. On the other hand we have a complicated fetishized view of police that shows up in pornography and in BDSM groups. The relationship has been muddled even more within the current political climate; police officers have become a highly volatile subject. What does the average citizen really know about the reality of being a police officer? The reality is often found in between these extremes.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake’s Citizen’s Police Academy. Through this experience, I learned firsthand some of the reality that police officers face each day. It also opened a place for healing old childhood wounds. I found myself better understanding my own emotional responses I would experience while interacting with police officers.
I am eleven or twelve. My father has come home for lunch. He has parked his motorcycle directly behind my mother’s car. We have a dentist appointment, my mother and I get into the car. She either forgets or does not know that the motorcycle is parked directly behind her car. Backing into it she knocks over the motorcycle. Momentarily we both look at each other in horror as we realize what has just happened.
My father runs out of the house, quickly makes his way to the driver’s side door of the car. A scuffle ensues as my father forces the door open and my mother is trying to re-shut and lock the door. He’s stronger and soon forces the car door open. He drags her out of the car while hitting her. Amongst all the screaming, I hear her yell, “Lock the doors and stay in the car.”
My father drags her onto the lawn. She curls up on the lawn with her hands wrapped around her head as my father continues hitting and yelling at her.
I sat in a locked car watching helplessly as my mother was beaten by my father.
She eventually escapes, running off to a neighbor’s house. My father ties to get into the car. I am too scared and refuse to unlock the doors. I am terrified.
Then, he picked up his motorcycle and drove off.
Within minutes a county sheriff arrives, walks up to the car, knocks on the window and asks me if I am okay.
He was a tall man when seen from the eyes of a child. I still see all but the details of his face clearly in my mind. Even that is probably stored somewhere in my memories.
Most, if not all, of my memories of police officers as a child involved them arriving to my house just after a moment of extreme violence. Their arrival indicated that all was now safe, for the moment. The violence had ended for the day.
Starting this fall I spent 10 Wednesday nights and one Saturday morning interacting with police officers. At the end of each of these classes I found myself feeling emotional, often crying as I drove myself home.
One of the scenarios we acted out during the police academy was responding to a domestic violence call. I played the role of an officer. The actual scenario was nonviolent, just a lot of yelling. Although it was enough to destroy any remaining walls I left around those childhood emotions.
I found a place in my life where little Keith feels safe enough to unlock the car doors and come out. I have a better understanding that some of the emotional, psychological and physiological reactions I experience when interacting with a police officer were rooted in an emotional past that, until recently, I have been unwilling to fully acknowledge and deal with. What started out as an intent to better understand police turned into a better understanding and integration of myself.
At the end of the day, every police officer wants to go home alive. They have family, friends and partners just like us. The difference is most of us do not face the uncertainty and possibility of death every single day. Something as simple as a traffic stop has the potential to end in an officer being killed. Like the deaths of police officer Douglas Barney and state trooper Eric Ellsworth this year. Also, more serious operations have the potential of risk such as the death of police officer Cody Brotherson.
There are members of our own community who put on the uniform every day. I can only imagine that they are often caught between two worlds, Our community and the community that is their profession.
Before participating in the Citizen’s Police academy I never took the time to understand the world of the police officer, let alone my own emotional responses to them. Some people have negative experiences and reasons to be apprehensive in their interactions with the police.
In the end, each one of us has our own complicated relationship with the police, born out of the community we are a part of, the society we live in, and out of our own life experiences. In the midst of this complication exists the potential for greater understanding and the building of stronger bridges.
My father is a good person with his own issues like everyone else. He became my biggest champion when I came out.
Both Salt Lake City Police Department and the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake have citizens’ academies. I would encourage members of our community to attend a citizen’s academy and learn more about what it means to be a police officer.
Gay Writes is a DiverseCity Series writing group, a program of SLCC’s Community Writing Center. The group meets the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month, 6:30-8 pm, 210 E. 400 South, Ste. 8, Salt Lake.