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Lions Roar : March 2016
and unspoken agreements embedded in police culture. At the root of much of this is the fact that as police officers we sometimes can- not see and respond to what is in front of us—a human being in need of help. It can be hard for veteran law-enforcement officers to recognize that our hearts may have stopped quivering in response to the suffering of others. It’s true that police officers often see people at their worst—people generally don’t call us when things are going well. But left unchecked, cynicism and distrust are likely to fester in a police officer’s heart. That’s where mindful awareness comes in. Buddhism gave me an ethical frame- work and practice that helped me do my job with a more open and tender heart. Not that everyone bought it. The most frequent question I got asked as a Bud- dhist cop was, “How can you do this kind of work?” Early on, Thich Nhat Hanh put that question to rest for me. He asked me, “Who else would we want to carry a gun besides somebody who will do it mind- fully?” Carrying a gun, he said, can even be an act of love if done with under- standing and compassion. Once I was able to view my work through the lens of kindness and com- passion, I rarely regretted any action that I took. When a police officer starts with a commitment to nonaggression and pre- venting harm, the gun and badge become symbols of skillful means, rather than symbols of authority and power. But it can be lonely out there. Those of us who are committed to nonviolence and are working in professions that sometimes demand the use of force need your support. If communities want com- passionate police forces, they must get deeply involved with them. This means organizing to call for changes in police leadership, hiring, use-of-force policies, and training practices. As Buddhists, we need to undertake this with awareness, right speech, an understanding of the police officer’s job, and compassion. Creating a better public-safety system is a shared responsibility between the community and its police department. Here are five questions that can help both citizens and law-enforcement officers examine these issues deeply: 1. Why is racial profiling happening? How do we become more aware of the conscious and unconscious bias operat- ing in our individual and organizational decision-making? How do we monitor and shift the unconscious agreements that lead to racial profiling? 2. How can trust be reestablished between the police department and the community? The principles of restorative justice ask us to look at all harm that has occurred, recognize those who were harmed, and explore how to set things right. The most important thing is the intention to do no further harm. How do we foster this in our- selves, in police officers, and in our com- munity? What will help police officers and community members to step out of their fear, reactivity, aggression, and resistance? 3. How can coordinated community responses be set up to address problems? How do we build informal safety nets, especially in challenged neighborhoods? This includes issues involving mental health and poverty. Are there tools avail- able to us that are not being utilized? 4. How do we address the emotional effects of incremental trauma that officers experience over time (whether they recognize it or not)? What are the early warning signs? What are the evidentiary signs indicating the need for departmental and community intervention? 5. What are the root causes that underlie pat- terns of crime in our communities? Because all things arise due to causes and conditions, what we do in response mat- ters. What we care about matters. What pathways we cultivate in our hearts and minds in response to these tragedies and problems matter. ♦ PEACE IS THE PATH As part of my dharma teacher ordination in 2008, Thich Nhat Hanh and I exchanged gathas, or practice poems. Because of his tremendous influence on me as a police officer, I composed and recited the follow- ing poem for him. —Cheri Maples Breathing in, I know that mindfulness is the path to peace. Breathing out, I know that peace is the path to mindfulness. Breathing in, I know that peace is the path to justice. Breathing out, I know that justice is the path to peace. Breathing in, I know my duty is to provide safety and protection to all beings. Breathing out, I am humbled and honored by my duty as a peace officer. Breathing in, I choose mindfulness as my armor and compassion as my weapon. Breathing out, I aspire to bring love and understanding to all I serve. CHERI MAPLES worked in the criminal justice system for twenty-five years, serving as assistant attorney general in the Wiscon- sin Department of Justice and as captain of personnel and training in the Madison police department. She is the cofounder of the Center for Mindfulness and Justice. SCREENSHOTVIAVIMEO Maples’ ordination by Thich Nhat Hanh LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2016 14