Take a Breather Mister Officer

There is no doubt that police officers have some of the most stressful and dangerous jobs in the world. Particularly in high-risk areas, officers frequently risk their lives in the line of duty. These same officers carry guns, and thus have the ability to decide whether a person lives or dies. Of course, this is not really a part of the job description, but in the end, it’s a reality.

Since January, approximately 683 people have been killed by on-duty officers. Some of these in-custody deaths and shootings, like the case of Freddie Gray and the violent arrest of Sandra Bland, have caused an uproar across the country. Critics suggest that undue force and violence is often used by arresting officers. Many have suggested, the discrepant number of black individuals killed proves that there is a deep rooted fear that has stemmed from negative stereotypes about black people in the United States.

Anger and fear are natural human emotions that can’t be completely avoided, however, they can be mollified and controlled. Violence is unnecessary if the life of the officer is not threatened. Yet, fear and anger can come from anywhere, even if there is no direct threat. During the Sandra Bland arrest it appeared that the officer was initially upset at the lack of respect that he received, but Bland posed no real physical danger. Similarly, Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold, literally had his arms in the air in surrender.

Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” If the aim is to reduce the number of police killings in the United States, officers should be required to take part in proactive mindfulness training. Such work would allow them to accurately understand their own emotions, put space between impulse and action, and let them take control of the situation. Understanding their own personal fears, for example, could allow them to better determine what is a direct threat and what is not.

Cheri Maples, founder of the Center for Mindfulness and Justice and 25 year veteran of the criminal justice system, states that, “peace in one’s own heart is a prerequisite to providing true justice and compassion to others.” Mindfulness programs such as Maples’ are necessary if we wish to reform our justice system and decrease the number of deaths at the hands of police officers. A decrease is absolutely necessary if we want the public to maintain trust in the system.

Police services must be proactive rather than reactive, especially considering data (high rates of suicide, alcoholism, and divorce) that suggests police work is one the most stressful jobs in the United States. Mindfulness training can easily be incorporated into the system and has the capability to save lives and decrease police brutality.

According to Greater Good, a website created by UC Berkeley, mindfulness not only allows a person to become more aware of themselves, but to be more compassionate and altruistic. Generally people react better to kindness than they do to anger or violence. Bland reacted negatively because the officer instigated her with his own disrespectful attitude. Had he begun the conversation with more empathy and mindfulness, the situation would likely not have taken such a drastic turn.

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