Three generations of my family have served this country in the military and law enforcement.
I have been both a police officer in Nashville and an officer in the Marines.
My training prepared me, like all police officers, to uphold the law. As a Marine, my training prepared me to defend our country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
I am trained like them … but I am different from many of them, in that I am a black, gay woman.
Like so many other Americans, I had a moment of reckoning watching our own police and military ordered to fire rubber bullets and tear gas at citizens peacefully protesting.
I was so grateful that, fellow Marine, General Mattis found his humanity and made a stand, when the use of military forces was turned on the very people we were trained and sworn to protect.
General Powell stated he was glad “General Mattis took a risk,” broke his silence and spoke up against what was happening.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept thinking back to when I was 16 and my dad and I had The Conversation. On my final test drive before getting my license, he turned to me and he said, “What do you do with your hands if you’re ever stopped by the police?”
“I make my hands visible. I put them at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel.”
He said, “That’s right.”
“But, what if I’m not doing anything wrong?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
That night, I kept thinking, “Those peaceful protesters weren’t doing anything wrong. What if I’d still been a police officer, or military officer, and I had been officially ordered to fire rubber bullets and tear gas at members of my community? What would I have done?”
What would you have done?
At the age of 22, as a rookie officer, I always felt I was “one of the good guys.”
I went to the tough neighborhoods (which happened to be black) to show a police presence, create a sense of security and conduct traffic stops.
I knew I would often find drugs, suspended licenses and warrants for arrest when I pulled people over.
At the time I thought I was fighting crime. In reality, and in retrospect, I was over-policing and profiling my black brothers and sisters.
It is in our culture, in our constitution, to stand up and speak up for what’s right.
If you and I don’t, who will?
If we want things to change for good in our country, one place to start is with how we “police” and “profile” each other.
Peaceful protesters are voting with their feet. They are standing up and speaking up, that we must be better, must do better, together.
They are holding our elected officials accountable for re-examining how we deal with peaceful protest.
155 years after slavery was abolished, and 50 years after Dr. King’s assassination, the equality, justice and fair treatment, that is written into our laws, is NOT the norm.
How can we change that?
How can we move our country — including its elected leaders, military leaders, and police leaders — to protect and honor the rights of all people who are trying to correct what is wrong?
I, for one, believe the seed of change is in taking tangible steps to follow Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s advice, “The time is always right to do what is right”.
June 9 was election day in Georgia. Even though I was a registered voter, I was forced to fill out a paper ballot. Due to very limited polling locations and broken voting machines, more than a few lines to vote had a four-to seven-hour wait. I loaded up the car and took water, snacks and words of encouragement to help people persevere and stay in line to exercise their right to vote.
That was just one way to do what was right. There are many others.
What will you do today, and every day, to honor what is right, to protect what is right, and to act on what is right?
One thing you can do is turn The Conversation into a New Conversation, with your friends, family members, employees, and neighbors.
We can change our communities, our culture, our country — for good — if we just agree to have A New Conversation. Will you join me?
Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour is a former police officer and America’s first African American female combat pilot. She completed two combat tours in the Gulf. She is a keynote speaker, leadership advisor, founder and CEO of VAI Consulting and Training, LLC., and author of the book “Zero to Breakthrough.” http://vernicearmour.com/