By Simon Gerofsky, Civil Rights Journey 2016 Participant
This morning, I had breakfast at Waffle House in Little Rock, Arkansas. The food was amazing, the waitress was warm and welcoming, and the atmosphere was a great one to be in.
While waiting for my breakfast, I nodded to the man sitting next to me, a Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office Deputy. After I nodded, I did something I never thought I would do; I asked to join him for breakfast. I had questions that I had never thought to ask before going on this trip and meeting all the speakers we have, along with the other participants on this journey. I also needed these questions answered for me, a 16-year-old boy who is an aspiring police officer.
After some thought, he agreed and asked why I wanted to join him. This is where I caught the deputy, who went by Deputy Garrison, way off guard. I asked how he feels about all the racial and social tension in America. I also wanted to know his opinion because no one ever seems to ask a cop how they feel about the turmoil in our country. Deputy Garrison immediately stopped drinking his coffee, and simply said, “Dang, you really came out swingin.’” Then he pondered and told me that “something has to change soon. If something doesn’t change, I wouldn’t want to live in a country with Martial Law.”
Impressed by his quick and genuine answer, I fired back with an even tougher question: “How would you like to see change in our society regarding police brutality, de-escalation of a situation, and especially police safety, as well as if body cameras truly help?” Again, Deputy Garrison was ready. He was very proud to say that he received de-escalation tactics training. He was not so proud to say that some police departments don’t offer that training. He also said it’s sad to see officers who would rather throw a man in jail rather than work to find a helpful solution. In regards to wearing body cameras, Deputy Garrison said the Pulaski Sheriff’s Office will be having their officers wear them in the coming months. He went on to tell me how important these cameras are. He said that these cameras will hopefully help bring the community and the police force together. Working alongside with the community, the cameras will help show the public how hard the job is. These police officers have to make life or death decisions in less than two seconds, and Deputy Garrison feels that these cameras will help both the police and the public better understand each other.
By this point, my breakfast was cold, and people were waiting out the door for a table. So I shook Deputy Garrison’s hand, thanked him, and told him to be safe. We both understood that the “be safe” part really meant “don’t end up on national news.” With this, I ate my peanut butter waffles and pondered how I just had an encounter that most politicians and high-profile people refuse to have and how lucky I was to have that opportunity. This was progress between police and public, adult and teen, police officer and future police officer. I only hope I can have the same opportunity when I join the force.