The following op-ed was published February 27, 2023 in The Charlotte Observer.
Like many across the nation, my family and I viewed the body camera footage from the case involving Tyre Nichols. My 8-year-old will tell you that he wants to be a police officer when he grows up. As he sat next to me watching the video of the beating and the officer commentary that followed, his face was full of confusion. My wife and I asked him what he thought after what he had just watched. It was difficult for my son to even articulate a thought. He didn’t have questions. All he had were two statements: The police are not supposed to do that, and that does not happen here. It was a solemn night at our house.
In my 20 years with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, I have missed many family obligations to work for what my family knows is a valuable commitment to our community. My family accepts the sacrifices they make knowing that my job is an invaluable one. However, in seeing events like the one with Tyre Nichols, there is inevitable questioning of the nobility of policing. With that comes tremendous hurt. Hurt felt by police officers who have sacrificed much in the service to complete strangers and for the idea that we work for something greater than a paycheck, title or self-interest. Hurt that despite our best efforts, there are members of our community who continue to have justified mistrust and fear of the police.
It does not matter that these events took place in a city many of us have never visited, or that it involved an organization that has no real formal connection to ours. So, what do we do with this hurt? The following day, I left my little boy’s first soccer game early and missed his second game to attend the local rally in uptown Charlotte. As another uniformed officer and I waited in the general area, we were called over by the organizers of the demonstration to answer some questions about a parking meter. After answering their questions, we told the organizers that we planned to march with them and were available to answer questions. The organizers were welcoming and thanked us for joining. There seemed to be a mutual feeling that Charlotte is different. What is different in Charlotte? The fact that there are those of us who volunteer to be with the protesters to offer our fellow citizens the opportunity to speak to, and sometimes vent to, a human being who happens to also wear a police uniform.
Members of CMPD came to be part of the demonstration to show that we are part of this community, and we are here to let people know that they are heard. We want to provide that opportunity, to provide people the chance to speak to a police officer, to be heard by a police officer. There have been times in recent history where actions taken by members of CMPD were questioned and protested by those in the community. We were present then as well to listen. We want people to know that just as an attack on a police officer is an attack on our society, abuse of power by a police officer is also an attack on our society. No member of CMPD can guarantee that bad things will not happen here. Police officers are humans. Humans are fallible. Mistakes have consequences. People from all sides are held accountable. At the same time, it must be said that I have seen police officers here in Charlotte-Mecklenburg perform acts that are nothing short of miraculous in the interest of saving lives and protecting the well-being of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. It is humbling to know that I wear the same badge as those heroes do.
When asked why I would put on a uniform and take part in a demonstration against the very uniform I wear, the answer is simple: to let people know that we recognize the pain they feel stemming from incidents such as what happened to Tyre Nichols, to be the neighbor anyone would want to live next to, and to be a human being who serves this community as best I can while wearing this uniform at this time.
S.A. Fischbach is a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department captain in the Eastway Patrol Division.