Intersections – What the police?
By Nicki Salcedo
I would come to Decatur a lot when I was growing up. My mom worked in the Decatur Towne Center building. The main restaurant in town was called Buck’s. They made the best blueberry cobbler I’ve ever had.
I was the kind of kid who liked the library and would come to Decatur to study. But I was not allowed, under any circumstances, to be in Decatur after 8 p.m. Decatur was a “dangerous” place.
Eventually, I went off to California. It was a nice surprise to come back to Atlanta years later and find that Decatur was an up-and-coming city.
I enjoy what Decatur has to offer. This town has good food and festivals with a dash of intrigue and drama and infrastructure. That’s why I decided to attended the Decatur 101 class two years ago. That’s why I decided to attend the Citizen’s Police Academy this year.
I’m not one to think “F*ck the police” even with all the new stories about law enforcement being the “bad guys.” I like the clear line of demarcation. Me over here. Police over there. I was a bit intimidated to spend 10 weeks learning about our local law enforcement.
On the first night of Citizen’s Police Academy, I mentioned that I live in the City of Decatur because of the police department. Most parents say they are here because of the schools. That’s fine. I’ve got four kids in four different Decatur schools, so I’m getting a good value for my taxes.
But several years ago, I had my first and only opportunity to call the police. I was very pregnant with two small kids, and my husband was working late. The house alarm went off, and I knew something was wrong. Without pausing I jumped out of bed and ran to get my kids from their room and ran back to my room. I put the kids in my bed and locked the door and put a chair in front of it.
Maybe my reaction was dramatic, but when we were first married my husband and I lived in Midtown. One night an intruder tried to break into our apartment. We could see the man trying to break down the door. I called the police several times. Each time I called, the dispatcher took my information and disconnected the call. Eventually, my husband scared off the intruder. The police showed up 3 hours later.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I called the police in Decatur. The woman who answered my 911 call stayed on the phone with me. “I have an officer on the way,” she said. “Don’t hang up.”
Three minutes later a patrol car showed up and investigated the alarm. Ultimately, they found that our door was blown open by the wind because of a faulty lock.
My call to the police seems silly now, but it didn’t seem silly at the time. No one treated me like I was silly. I can see how the dispatcher’s voice on the other end of the phone could save a life. I understand that 3 minutes versus 3 hours could be the difference between very dramatic outcomes.
That night after the officers left, my husband looked at me and said, “You’re never leaving this town, are you?”
I entered Citizen’s Police Academy with that story on my mind. After 10 weeks of class that story was still on my mind. Who will I call if there is an intruder at my house or an active shooter at our schools? Who am I to demand respect from the police if I am not also first willing to give respect?
Instead of being fearful of crime or worried about those who might hurt me, I am thankful for the police and for those officers who might lay down their lives to save mine.
In class, I held my first gun. I rode in a police car. During my ride along, the officer had the classic hip-hop station playing quietly as we drove. Lyrics from House of Pain filled the air, “I never eat a pig ’cause a pig is a cop.” I had many internal panic attacks. (Please don’t let NWA be next. Please don’t let NWA be next.)
Though the uniform is impressive, it isn’t the sum total of the officer. I can’t imagine having my day job define me every moment of my life. I can’t let my disappointment in a few police officers turn into a larger prejudice against all police officers.
We walked through the Square on the night of the bonfire, and I ran into a few people from the police department. There was the deputy chief and a lieutenant and the officer who knows all the kids who walk through town. I got a hug from each of them. My kids stared wide-eyed. For them police officers are like celebrities and superheroes.
My kids don’t know anything about injustice and abuse of power and institutional racism. Yet. My hope is that they won’t have to ever have to learn about those things. My hope is that everywhere we go they look at police officers with respect as role models and superheroes and human beings.
It is certainly easy to be suspicious and angry and hateful toward cops, until you need one.
“Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from Decaturish.com and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.