How We Can Support Officers & Our Communities

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Chirlane McCray is the first lady of New York City. In the following piece, she shares with Refinery29 readers three steps the country can take to heal in the wake of the recent police shootings of Black men in Louisiana and Minnesota and attacks on police in Dallas and Baton Rogue, and work to prevent future tragedy. For more discussion on the issue, watch Refinery29's recent town hall: R29 Dialogue: Race In America. The views expressed here are her own.

Our country is in pain. We are in mourning for precious lives lost, and we will continue to grieve for a long time. As we grieve, many sad, angry, and worried people are asking how we can begin to heal the divisions between police and communities, and how we can prevent future horrors. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I want to suggest three steps we can take that will support our officers and improve communities.

First: We need more women in our police forces.

We all agree that things work better when the police look like the people they protect and serve. Yet, all too often we forget about gender when we are talking about diversity. Women make up more than half of all Americans. But, nationally, police forces are almost 90% male. That’s not just unfair. It influences the kind of policing we have in America.

We have the tools and treatments to prevent so much frustration, sorrow, and tragedy.

I would argue that women have social skills our police departments really need right now. Most women are raised with a greater focus on what it takes to nurture, to connect emotionally, and to provide care and comfort. Police officers can use these skills to better understand communities, look for ways to collaborate with people, and find ways to de-escalate violence. New York City’s most recent police class was 20% women, and we’re working to add even more. Police departments across the country should move in the same direction.

Second: We need to pay more attention and direct more funds to treating mental illness.

One in five adults has a diagnosable mental illness. Think about that! That means every family in America is affected. If that many people had the Zika virus, that’s all we’d be talking about. Yet mental illness is often ignored. That doesn’t just hurt those suffering from mental illness. It affects our police.

We are all forces for good.

Untreated mental illness plays a role in too many of our national tragedies. Let me be clear: Most people with mental illness aren’t violent. In fact, day in, day out, the mentally ill are victims of crime. And far too many people with mental illness are in jail or emergency rooms, instead of getting the help they need to recover. Who deals with the fallout? Families and friends, but also hardworking police officers. We are asking too much of our officers, who already have tough jobs, when we also expect them to be social workers and counselors. We have the tools and treatments to prevent so much frustration, sorrow, and tragedy. Why do we continue to dismiss the needs of our families and make officers' lives more difficult? We can alleviate suffering, heal families, and make our police safer by providing more mental health services. We are doing this in New York City with ThriveNYC, the nation’s most comprehensive effort to mobilize the resources needed to seriously address mental health.

Third: We need urgent action on guns.

Our national gun debate has grown so heated that raising our voices can feel daunting, if not nearly impossible. Yet, we must push for gun reform. Widespread availability of guns escalates tension and invites violence. It also makes it much harder to quickly identify a bad actor. The open carry law in Dallas meant a potential shooter could easily blend in with the many legally armed people at the protest. Does anyone really think that allowing guns for everyone makes us safer? All of us, whether we are police officers or peaceful protesters, want the same things: safety, respect, and recognition of our humanity. We are all forces for good. Now is the time to rally around one another to seek the kind of solutions that will make all of our lives better.

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