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Black police officer: I live in two worlds

By Anwar Sanders
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A black police officer says he lives in two worlds
  • He shares hopes, aspirations of African American community and values of police
  • Protesters should know there are cops who are seeking to solve community problems, he says

Editor's note: Anwar Sanders is a police officer in New Mexico who wrote an earlier piece for theGrio. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. Follow @theGrio on Twitter or like it on Facebook. Watch him today at 3 PM on CNN Newsroom.

(CNN) -- Three days ago, I decided to write an open letter to black protesters because I couldn't stay silent any longer.

Since the death of Michael Brown, America has been in an intense debate over how law enforcement operates in communities of color. I am an African-American police officer -- a term that seems like an oxymoron these days -- and like thousands of other black men and women who wear blue, I exist in two worlds.

The open letter, published by theGrio, was an attempt to offer solutions.

I wrote about how proud I am to see young black men and women mobilize and rally for a cause but that too many in their movement overgeneralize and paint all law enforcement as corrupt. I explained how, contrary to what is often portrayed, the vast majority of cops aspire to be peacekeepers and that our good work often goes unnoticed. Finally, I offered what I believe could be achievable solutions to improve the relationship between law enforcement and the communities of color we serve.

I wrote, referring to the protesters:

Cops and the communities they serve
Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, center, warms up before an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, December 9, in Los Angeles. The team wore "I Can't Breathe" shirts during warm-ups in support of the family of Eric Garner. Since a grand jury declined to indict a New York police officer in the death of Garner, demonstrators across the country have taken to the streets to express their outrage. Garner, a 43-year-old asthmatic, died in July after he was put in a chokehold by the officer, Daniel Pantaleo. Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, center, warms up before an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, December 9, in Los Angeles. The team wore "I Can't Breathe" shirts during warm-ups in support of the family of Eric Garner. Since a grand jury declined to indict a New York police officer in the death of Garner, demonstrators across the country have taken to the streets to express their outrage. Garner, a 43-year-old asthmatic, died in July after he was put in a chokehold by the officer, Daniel Pantaleo.
Protests after Eric Garner grand jury decision
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"What they fail to understand is that I'm from the community and just one degree of separation from living in their world. My twin brother and I took different paths in life. He developed a dependency on drugs and spiraled into a life of crime that led to his incarceration. This is why making arrests is still a very difficult part of my job. Like 99 percent of those in law enforcement, I did not get into this profession to disrupt or end lives; rather, I want to save the lives of so many people -- like my brother.

"Most police officers do this job because they love the communities they serve. We chose to be in a profession where every day you get to make a difference, whether it's saving a child from an unhealthy home, coming to the aid of a domestic violence victim, finding shelter for the homeless or getting a reckless drunken driver off the road.

"Contrary to what many believe, we do not hope to have violent run-ins. It is actually what I dread the most."

In the piece, I decided not to give my full name. I didn't know what type of reaction or backlash to expect. For me, submitting this was not without risk. I feared being ostracized in the profession I chose, especially by the community I was born into and love.

As expected, the post did receive a number of negative comments, which I won't give attention to because solutions rarely come from negativity.

One thing that was abundantly clear from reading the reactions was how much television and movies have overtaken reality. There was an all too common perception that within every agency, there is a rogue, a power-hungry officer who would violate any policy in his attempt to destroy the black community.

One commenter said it best, "Bigoted bad guys don't just stick out like in movies twirling their mustaches and looking evil."

A few asked why I chose to single out black protesters when those involved in the movement are from all races. To that I say, while this is a national discussion, I believe the solutions are primarily local. I spoke to those who are part of our black communities and encouraged them to form relationships with local law enforcement and work with them to recruit more diverse police officers.

I was pleasantly surprised by how many of the readers welcomed this encouragement. These are some of the voices from our community that the media often fails to represent.

"As an African American teacher in the American public school system, I can identify with his words. I know what it is like to do a thankless job and to be misunderstood and undervalued both when my professional uniform is on and off. A huge shift would come if people of color decided to take jobs in law enforcement and teaching."

"Bro, I was proud that a black man and officer spoke up about it. It needed to be said. It was the truth of how African Americans act and respond in these situations."

But nothing was more gratifying than to hear the words of encouragement I received from fellow black officers representing various police departments throughout the country. They were relieved that someone had given them a voice. To hear their appreciation was emotionally rewarding.

While people are protesting and searching for answers, I just hope they also consider there are police officers who are the living embodiment of the very solutions they seek.

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