Ron Green has lived many lives–Army officer, Secret Service agent, and now corporate executive. I encountered Ron’s words through a friend, a classmate of Ron’s at West Point, and I wanted to share them with you because Ron’s experiences as a black man who has faced and continues to face discrimination (including by the police) and is also the son and nephew of police officers, give him the kind of broad perspective we could all use right now.
Ron spoke a version of these words to his team this week. He notes that the spoken version may have been more colorful. Before he spoke, he instructed his team, to follow the standard policy and delete the recording afterwards. When he was done, his team countermanded his order, believing that the team members not present deserved the opportunity to hear his words as well. Alas, I do not have, nor can I give you access to his tape, but I think you’ll agree after you read Ron’s words, that they made the right decision.
This post represents my thoughts – it’s my words alone and not a message affiliated to any company or organization that I am or have been a part of. I will always accept any consequences that my words or actions may have as I have done throughout my life – an important value I learned from my father.
The past weeks have been emotionally challenging for me. I’ve read and posted on social media channels where my friends and fellow alumni of the United States Military Academy voice opinions, while trying to understand how to interpret what is happening and lending support on what the right direction should be. I’ve spoken with current and former members of the U.S. Secret Service, an agency I was once part of and still feel close kinship with. I’ve read messages from generals that I respect as they try to help us reason with this. I’ve heard from my bosses who’ve let me know their hand is on my shoulder and heard the frustration of other members of my company as they try shape the right path forward. I find all of this encouraging, because I know the hearts of most people are good.
I am going share a little bit about me, so that you know my truth and understand some of the experiences that allow me to think the way I do. I don’t want or need your sympathy. While I bare some scars from my life’s journey – overall, it’s been a damn good ride. I have earned everything I have, and I want nothing more than what my father wanted for me. A good life, a fulfilling life, a safe life, a better world for my kids and those that follow.
I am a black man. I have faced many of the same challenges I’ve heard my friends talk about. I’ve been called everything you can call a black man in the face of outright hate. I’ve seen the silent fear of people that clutch their purses a little tighter in my presence or cross the street to avoid being close to me. I’ve heard the passive ignorance of “you speak very eloquently,” or the silent “he got to where he is because he is black.” I have to talk through SAT scores, grades, and past work experiences to crush the notion I haven’t earned my place. I’ve been stopped for “driving while black,” once at gun point. Before I had my license, my father explained to me how I need to behave when confronted by a police officer. Be polite. Keep your hands visible. Move slowly and deliberately. Keep things calm. If you feel like the officer can’t keep things from escalating, help him. When I think about it now, I could tell there was concern in his eyes, but at the time it was just another life lesson. Fathers shouldn’t have to talk to their sons this way. This is why Black Lives Matter is important to me. We must do better.
My wife worries about me, but I have no fear. My life is good. Again, I believe the heart of almost everyone is good. And if by chance I happen upon a cop with malice in their heart and I were to lose my life, I take comfort in knowing that my death would be extremely difficult to explain and may help make the world a better place. My experiences have taught me that there are things worth dying for.
My father knew a lot about cops because, he was a cop, and his brothers were cops. They worked the streets of Philadelphia. And threw many family outings, cook outs, and parties. There were always a lot of people. Black, white, Hispanic, men, women, straight and gay … but most of all, they were blue. I heard their stories. Some heroic, some funny, some sad. I wanted to be one, so one I became. I have my own stories; my kids and wife are bored of them. Some of my closest friends in life stem from my time as a law enforcer. It is a family you can’t understand unless you are one.
Before I completed agent training, I ended up breaking up an armed robbery. I took a gun from a guy that was holding up a hotel my agent class was staying in. I didn’t hold on to the crook and he got away. Every one of my classmates thought what I had done was great. My agent instructors let me know that I did the right thing and represented the agency well. I shared exactly what I did with my dad – and he was livid. He let me know that when a criminal has a gun you have to take them down hard. You can’t give them the chance to use the gun on you. There could have been an accomplice he could have run to. I lived through the experience, not by owning the situation, but only by fortunate circumstance. He wasn’t angry about my tactics as much as he was scared that my inexperience could lead to my death. My father who understood that a bad cop could kill me, also understood that an officer that doesn’t use an appropriate level of violence could also die.
My law enforcement time wasn’t all happiness and fun. I shot a person once, they left me no choice. We had to use tear gas on a group of rioters (Rioters are not peaceful demonstrators. I’ve also been around a lot of peaceful demonstrations with absolutely no issues). My best friend, partner, and godfather to my oldest girls … my brother, Buddy Sentner gave his life in the line of duty. When we planned operations together, they went off seamlessly. Our targets always gave up peacefully in the face of a well orchestrated use of overwhelming force. He was not with me for the operation that led to my shooting and I was not there for his. Our shooting happened because we did not own all aspects of our circumstances. Not being there for him at that minute he needed me most, sits as one of the deepest regrets I have in my life. By sharing this, I want you to understand that I believe more than the majority of police are good and are willing to give it all to protect the people they serve. Blue lives matter very deeply to me, and in a way that would be hard to know unless your brother or sister has given their last full measure in service.
Only evil people want us to think you have to be for blue or black lives. That should not be the question. Much more can be done to protect those that stand the thin blue line, that protect civil society from chaos, and more can be done to remember fallen heroes that took up the badge. But we have to admit, that there is an open dumpster fire when it comes to the victims of unnecessary police violence. Police should always, always be the hero and never the villain.
For Black Lives Matters, we have to expect more out of our police. George Floyd, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice stand out to me as killings that there is no excuse for and are the result of heinous police practices. From the limited video I’ve seen, I can tell you that the outcome would have been different if any of the police officers I’ve worked with had been there.
Our nation’s criminals are not our “enemies.” They must be held accountable for their actions, but like almost all black, white, Hispanic, Asian, men, women, straight or gay people, they are not evil. Some are – and I support the death penalty for those that are. On the whole though, most criminals are people that made bad decisions. They deserve to be treated with respect, and dignity, because they are human beings. Evil criminals aren’t worthy of respect, but neither is evil in any form.
I have no doubt we will navigate these times successfully as a country because … once again, I believe the heart of almost everyone is good. Our country has surmounted worse, and failure to adapt and evolve from this as country is too ghastly a future to fathom. To overcome this, we must all participate. We must all put our shoulder to the wheel. We have to get off of our chairs and out of our comfortable air conditioned homes and vote, peacefully protest, participate in helpful initiatives, offer our insight and opinion constructively, speak up when we see something wrong, and listen when we hear another point of view. We do this in the light together, or we watch in horror in the dark, alone.