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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Be Comfortable with Making Others Uncomfortable


Throughout my career, I have been underestimated. From the moment I earned my badge, I’d show up on a call and people would say, “you’re too little to be a cop” or “do they let you ride by yourself in a squad car?” As I moved up the ranks, I was often asked, “Do those men follow you?” I have learned to shrug it off or retort with a witty comeback. I never got angry because I tried to respect the templates for which those people saw the world that made them doubt me. It made me try harder to disprove their world view.

When Chief Greg Thomas called me into his office to tell me he was appointing me to Commander, I looked behind me to make sure he was talking to me. I verified he was and he went on to explain his expectations for my new position and then asked if I had any questions. I took that opportunity to inquire if he had any reservations about choosing me. He looked at me with honest eyes and said, “yes”. He said by promoting me, he would be promoting the person with the least experience. He would be promoting the youngest person to have ever been promoted to the position. He worried that I wasn’t ready. He worried that choosing me was a risk. When I looked at this decision from his viewpoint, I understood his trepidation. He could have gone with the safe bet. He could have chosen the person who looked like every other person who has lead our police department. He could have picked a calm and steady presence with years of experience versus the loudmouth girl who doesn’t fit the stereotype of a cop let alone a leader of cops. 

But he chose me. He said he did so because I scored one of the highest on the assessment the candidates went through. He said he knew I was a student of leadership and he believed that meant I would make it a priority for our department. He said he was more willing to take a risk on me rather than doing what has always been done. For him, staying the same was the bigger risk.

I never forgot the uncertainty in his eyes and I used that to spend every moment earning the position he gave me. I was determined to prove to him that he made the right choice and I know I ultimately made him proud. 

When I was appointed chief of police by Mayor Tom Weisner, he observed out loud that my resume ran circles around the other candidates. He offered that I had proven myself as a commander but he did tell me that he was apprehensive about my “personality". All of the candidates had to take an assessment and he said I came back as a “risk-taker”. He told me I might need to write fewer blog posts because I was a bit too opinionated. I laughed and didn’t deny that part of my personality because it’s who I am. I appreciated him for being a little afraid of me. But he gave me a chance.

Once again, determined to prove to him that he made the right choice, I made it my mission to succeed. I picked team members who thought differently than me to be a part of my command staff. I chose people who possessed qualities that I lacked but who shared the same passion for leading others. And as a team, we changed things for the better. We were unafraid to implement new and better processes and to make difficult personnel decisions because we all understood that to make a change, we had to be bold. 

I learned from Professor Marty Linsky while attending the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University that “leadership is about disappointing people at the rate they can absorb”. I thought that statement was absurd when I first heard it while sitting in his class. It wasn’t until I became the chief and was met with resistance at every change that I began to understand what he meant. People hate change. What I came to understand is that it’s not so much the change that is painful. Instead, it's that space before change happens that is painful. The only way to get to the other side is to go through it and I soon became comfortable with disappointing people on the way to changing things. 

If you are comfortable with making others uncomfortable, you can transform an organization. At my swearing-in as chief, I made a promise to the police officers in my department that I would ask myself three questions before making a decision: 1) Am I doing the right thing, 2) at the right time, and 3) for the right reasons? I vowed that if I ever answered “no” to any of those questions, I would not proceed. But if the answer was affirmative to all, I would move forward unapologetically. 

And that’s how we transformed our police department. As a result, our officers have reduced crime while building relationships with our citizens. We have added technology that has brought us to a “smart city” status and we have unleashed the talent and compassion of our officers. We have committed to relentless training so our officers are prepared on the street and make wise decisions. 

My biggest take away from being the chief has been that we can build a culture of police officers who are compassionate and empathic guardians of our city while simultaneously building warriors who run towards horrific things that no one else will. Every day, these officers respond to violence that puts them in harm's way, and presently, they are showing up and protecting our city during a pandemic and risking their own health to do it.

The pride I feel for them has never been higher and as I contemplate how I got lucky enough to serve this city and this department, I realize it all comes back to that one person who gave me a chance. I am privileged to be in the position I’m in and the only way I can pay back those like my chief and my mayor is to be willing to upset an ecosystem.

Sometimes we need to blow up the template of what we’ve always done to begin a transformation. And that might mean making others uncomfortable in the process. 

Do it anyway.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

What is this Pandemic Trying to Teach Us?

Life as we know it has stopped.

When my daughter received notice that her summer abroad trip to Taiwan was canceled, she was devastated. She is minoring in Chinese and worked so hard to be chosen for the program. Her story is similar to so many of your stories so she doesn’t have a monopoly on disappointment.

Nuptials have been canceled. Seniors in high school and college were robbed of milestone memories. A walk across the graduation stage has been replaced by a shuffle to the kitchen to break up the monotony of being confined. Performance stages all over the nation are dark and arenas are empty. Literally everything that means something to someone has been placed just out of reach.

I was calling it our “new normal” but I’ve stopped using that phrase because this is not a permanent change in our lives. If everyone cooperates, we will emerge on the other side of this and hopefully, we will have a new appreciation for what we once considered mundane. It turns out that as much as we complain about having to show up somewhere, we failed to see the freedom that comes with getting to show up. We are social animals and when we are forced to apply distance, we don’t respond very well.

It has never been more apparent as we drive through our bustling cities to see empty streets and closed businesses. On normal days, we complain about the crowds and the lines but these days, we yearn for those small annoyances because it means we are living our lives and doing the things that bring us happiness. I didn’t realize how much sitting in a restaurant with friends and laughing was part of my mental wellness. In our police department, we congregate in meetings and roll-call and what I once considered obligatory, are now things I miss simply because of the social component that goes along with conducting business.

When I’m confronted with challenges either personal or professional, I try to ask myself, “What is this trying to teach me?” When we can learn to apply lessons to our struggles, it often provides a much-needed perspective. This pandemic is no different. What is this trying to teach all of us?

My favorite book is “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. I’ve read it over 20 times but never has the message been more relevant to our current plight. His book taught me that everything can be taken from each of us except one thing — the freedom to choose our response in any situation.

Frankl was a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp and his book chronicles his experiences and lessons of survival. When other prisoners were giving up on life, Frankl learned that he could control his mental health despite not being in control of his surroundings. Even when people were dying, he chose to search for meaning in suffering. You don’t have to be a prisoner in a concentration camp to understand the parallels of those fighting this virus or suffering from losing someone who has succumbed to it.

How do we attempt to find meaning in a pandemic that we convinced ourselves was only possible in cinema? I don’t think we have reached Frankl’s level of enlightenment, but perhaps we shift our focus on doing so.

Maybe the lesson is that we are all interconnected and what affects one of us, affects all of us. Our actions matter. Reckless behavior by one of us could cause illness or death to someone we love.

We understand interconnection when it comes to kindness. “Spread that stuff everywhere” is a mantra we all comprehend. Perchance what we need to take away from this is that the “germs” we pass along to one another aren’t only in the form of infectious disease. The other ways we infect one another manifest in violence in the streets in the form of anger and hatred. And it spreads more hatred and kills more people. I wonder if a virus can teach us that human transference is more powerful than we ever imagined.

Wash your hands.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

A Lesson for Adults: Talk Less. Care More.

Aurora police officers Skyy Calice and Star Pirela stopped into my office to pitch an idea. They run a mentoring program for females in our area high schools called, “Girls Run the World” and during one of the meetings, the students asked the officers why no one ever asks them for their input on how to reduce gun violence.

A week prior, 15-year-old Jasmine Noble was shot in the head and killed at a party on the west side of Aurora and the students were (and still are) feeling the pain from the loss of their classmate. Earlier that week, 20-year-old Juanya Booker was shot to death on the east side of our city.

Aurora has faced challenges surrounding gun violence for a long time and although we have made great strides in the reduction of violent crime in our city, any life lost to a senseless murder leaves a painful void in our community and in the lives of those who loved them.

When Ofc. Calice and Ofc. Pirela said the students wanted to meet with city leaders and offer their input, I was intrigued. As the police chief, I talk to kids all the time. I’ve been invited to speak at our Youth Academy and all of the area schools and I do it as often as my schedule allows. But the words that stick out to me in that description are “talk” and “speak”. It occurred to me that in my interactions with our young citizens, I do more talking than listening.

I told the officers I was in and I recruited Mayor Irvin and the Superintendents from our 3 largest high schools to listen to 30 students (male and female) representing their respective schools. Ofc. Star Pirela organized the event and lured everyone in with a catered lunch. After the food was scarfed, Ofc. Pirela addressed the students with the following question:

“What factors are contributing to today’s youth violence?”

I thought the conversation would be slow to start but hands immediately went up in the air and Ofc. Pirela handed off the microphone where it continued to get passed around. One after another, the students offered their opinions:

  • Bravado on social media.
  • Fear of being ridiculed (i.e. bullied).
  • Lack of friends.
  • Abuse at home.
  • Lack of a father figure.
  • Bad parenting. 

I only spoke to ask a few clarifying questions and as I listened to each student, I was awestruck at the wisdom that was flying around the room. Hearing teens inform us that the major contributing factor to violence is parents who don’t act like parents was interesting to hear. One student shared that parents (regardless of single-parent or dual-parent homes) lack skills and pointed out that too many want to be “friends” with their kids. She offered that they don’t set boundaries for curfew, they don’t go into bedrooms and see what is in plain sight and they don’t pay attention when their kids start hanging out with a bad crowd.

They were fighting over the microphone to add more examples of bad parenting and I was on the edge of my seat. One student offered, “You can’t tell me that the kids who shot up everyone at Columbine and the other schools didn’t have guns or other clues in their bedrooms that their parents should have seen.”

WAIT, WHAT? They want boundaries. They crave rules. They want supervision.

Another said that physical and verbal abuse at home is one of the major reasons our youth are walking around hurting others. “When they feel so bad about themselves, they treat others badly.” Hearing them identify the systemic and causal factors that lead to violence was mind-blowing.

I was immersed in this conversation but I was feeling a sense of helplessness as they described these failures in their own homes. As a cop, I’m programmed to live in a problem-solving mode. I am wired to de-escalate and to stop the bad thing that’s happening but, at this moment, I understood at the core of my being that we cannot control the things that happen in a student’s home.

Ofc. Pirela’s next question was perfectly transitioned to address my internal strife:

“What can police and adults do to mitigate these factors?”

And then a beautiful girl took the microphone and said simply, “We need you to care.” She went on, “We need our police and our teachers to listen to us and to get more involved – please just hear us.”

The damaged kids walking around our schools who are involved with drugs, guns, and gangs got there either because they learned it from parents who engage in those behaviors or because they are running away from something in their lives. Simply put, hurt people hurt people.

We often have no idea what happens behind closed doors. What I learned in this listening session is that police, educators, coaches, faith-based leaders <insert any adult> can have an impact on the life of a teen if they care to do so.

Superintendent Jeff Craig from District 129 said that educators can begin by changing the way they interact with students who show up late to school. “Rather than pointing out that they are late and sending them to the dean for discipline, we can instead say, ‘We are glad you’re here.’” What a difference that can make in the life of a teen who may be late because they are at the mercy of their parent to get them to school or whatever obstacle at home caused them to be late. At least they showed up.

The students pitched tangible solutions such as setting up an anonymous texting platform so they can report incidents without being called a “snitch”. They suggested sending kids to tutoring rather than detention so they can get the academic help they need. They also said that we should get over the idea that every kid is college-bound and accept that some want to learn a trade rather than taking an academic path.

The biggest epiphany that we all must heed is that kids need boundaries and discipline from their parents, teachers, and police. They were quick to point out that being overly strict can backfire and cause rebellion but they offered that giving teens rules, boundaries, and discipline actually mean that you care for them and don’t want them to get hurt.

They also had the introspection to recognize that they need to hold each other accountable peer to peer. Beyond that, they independently concluded that despite the outside factors contributing to drug abuse, violence, and overall bad-behavior, they have the freedom to choose. One student said, “We want voices and we want choices.” They identified courage as being the one quality that they need to exercise more so they don’t follow the crowd down the wrong path.

After this event, I am far less worried about our future because these wise kids are going to grow into adults who will make positive changes that will cause a ripple.

As for me, I’m going to do far more listening than talking going forward. And for all of us, the lesson is simple: Care. You might never know how one act of compassion can change someone’s path.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

20 Things I’ve Learned in the Past Decade

A few days into the new year, I sat down during my morning ritual (see # 10) and pondered the lessons that the past decade offered me. Here is a list of the highlights. Maybe you can glean something from them as well as you take your first few steps into the new decade. 

1) Preparation is the key to everything. The way our officers and staff performed during the mass shooting in our city validated for me that we really do fall to the level of our training. Invest in people. Invest in equipment. Then put both of those things together and go through all the training scenarios you can think of so that when it’s not a drill, you’ve already been through it in a controlled space. You play like you practice.

1.5) Lesson number one isn’t just for police street survival — it’s for life. If you aren’t preparing and bettering yourself with each passing year, you will remain stagnant. This doesn’t mean that you have to get a degree or climb a mountain, but you do have to commit yourself to constant self-improvement. Read a book, take a class, fix a bad habit. Figure out what things you need to start doing and what things you need to stop doing to get better.

2) Life is precious. I already knew this but now I really get it. I felt it when I was in the command post during the shooting and didn’t know if our five shot officers were alive or dead. I felt it in all of my molecules when I attended the funerals of the five human beings who were killed that day. The pain of their family members brought me to my knees. I’ve seen and felt this kind of pain before but this time it was different. It brought clarity to the notion that we are only here on earth for a very short time.

3) Air Pod Pros were the best purchase ever. The noise-canceling feature has changed my life. I love babies but not when they are screaming on an airplane. 

4) Stop trying to win over the haters. You are not the jackass whisperer.

The ridiculous name-calling and bullying that happens over social-media and behind computer screens is so infinitesimally inconsequential in the big scheme of things. I have to come to a place in my life where I genuinely don’t care what the critics are saying because they are cowards making noise from the cheap seats. Any chump can sit behind a computer and spout off. I only take criticism from those who are on the front lines with me with their sleeves rolled up doing the work. The rest is just noise. This has brought me so much peace. Just put on your noise-canceling headphones and keep doing what you do.

5) Pay attention to what you pay attention to. Energy goes where your attention flows so if you find yourself obsessing over the little things, change your focus.

6) I lost a few relationships over the past few years and I was struggling to understand how I failed to see what they had been revealing to me all along. Now that I have some time and distance, the clarity is shocking. I have learned that addition by subtraction is real.

7) As my kids enter adulthood, I was mourning their absence from the house and the fact that they aren’t children anymore. But what I realized this year is that I don’t just love my kids — I really like them as human beings. They are smart and kind and funny and it’s really cool to be able to hang out with your family because you want to — not because you have to. Parenting is hard but try and build good kids who contribute to society. Also, provide just enough dysfunction to make them funny. 😆 

8) Don’t practice blind loyalty. Stand with people when they are right, but have the courage to question and part with them when they go wrong.

9) I still hate mushrooms. Every year I try to like them but this year was a no go. I’ll keep trying.

10) Morning routines affect productivity. I started waking up at 5:30 a.m. so I could set my intentions for the day. My routine consists of:
  • Brewing coffee.
  • Meditating while the coffee is brewing (my mediation time record is 7 minutes).
  • Writing down 3 things for which I am grateful.
  • Writing down 3 things about which I am excited.
  • Outlining my schedule and tasks for the day.
  • Exercise. I am obsessed with my Peloton.
I read about how successful people have strict morning routines and I decided to try it. It totally works! The meditation is still a struggle for me because I have the attention span of a 5-year-old but I have found that by starting the day with gratitude and intention, I am in a mindset of abundance versus scarcity. When I see my day outlined by schedule and tasks, I am better able to keep on track. Seriously, this is life-altering. I use this planner.

11) Even when you think you understand something, you don’t. I think of myself as enlightened when it comes to race relations but I’ve come to realize that there is no way I can comprehend the plight of another no matter how empathic I believe I am. I read 3 books in 2019 that made me realize my level of ignorance:
In a time where the minority community does not trust the police, I have sought to gain a deeper understanding so we can find ways to build bridges. Each of these authors helped me understand the depth and the breadth of societal and racial disparity and while I will never be able to fully comprehend the plight, I am determined to try. The best thing about trust is that it is not finite. We can build it if we seek first to understand, and then be understood.

12) Someone nice to you but not nice to a person in any service industry is not a nice person. Kindness matters.

13) You’re not too busy. You just haven’t made that person or thing a priority. No one is that important or that busy so stop saying you are.

14) Hurt people hurt people. The way others treat you is just a reflection of how they feel about themselves. Don’t take it personally.

15) “Okay.” vs. “Okay!” mean two different things when written. Punctuation matters. I have also accidentally conveyed a harsh tone via text or e-mail when my intention was to be just the opposite. The lesson here: important conversations are best had in-person.

16) Complaining is useless so stop doing it. If you’re upset about something in your life and can change it, do so. The victim mentality is unappealing. 

17) Your inner-circle matters. Surround yourself with people who don’t drag you down. If they steal your energy, it’s time to subtract them. Surround yourself with people who call you on your bullsh$% and make you want to be better. Surround yourself with people who do things and help you contribute to the world in a good way. Your tribe tells me everything I need to know about you.

18) It’s okay to ask for help. The strongest and most bad-assed people I know are those who have the courage to reach out when they are struggling. Struggling is real and it’s different from complaining. 

19) When something scares you, that probably means you should pursue it. Opportunities will not wait for the perfect moment so when it knocks, maybe it’s time to open the door. Then blow the door off its hinges.

20) And through it all, don’t forget to laugh. As my friend and colleague Jeff Wiencek says, “laughter is like shocks on a car — it makes going over the bumps much easier.”

I wish you a happy and productive 2020 filled with laughter and love.

Onward and upward.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Superintendent Eddie Johnson's True Character Revealed


Last year, one of my officers contemplated suicide.

The story has a happy ending but it took him over a year to fight the system to keep his job because the state revoked his FOID card as a result of being an inpatient at a mental health facility. Our city leaders supported me in fighting for his job and we attended depositions and hearings with determination.

The only way to get to the other side is to go through it and this officer fought to get there. 

During this time, I was at an unrelated meeting with Superintendent Eddie Johnson and shared this story with him. He called me to follow up out of concern for our officer and we shared our thoughts about the system being designed to prevent a police officer from asking for help. After witnessing what this officer went through, anyone else struggling would be deterred from seeking guidance. We commiserated but decided that it was up to us to change the culture. I appreciated Superintendent Johnson’s care and concern for my officer and his passion for fighting this affliction in our profession. 

The following year, we had a mass shooting where five people were killed and five of my officers were shot. Superintendent Johnson was among the first to reach out and ask what we needed. He offered prayers for our officers and support for our entire department as we attempted to navigate our darkest day. He said, “Aurora is our sister city so let us know what you need from Chicago.”

I will never forget the care and concern Eddie showed for our officers and me. I have watched him navigate the perils of leading the 2nd largest city in our nation and I have been proud to see the accomplishments that CPD has achieved in the last few years. And in the middle of it, he took the time to reach out and offer support. That tells me all I need to know about another human.

On behalf of your sister city, I thank you for your 31 years of dedicated service to our noble profession and wish you peace and contentment as you turn the page to the next chapter of your life.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Don't You Dare Give Up on This Life

*I never published this post because the officer asked me not to do so out of respect for his family. He contacted me and said he's ready to share his story because he believes he can help other officers who are in pain. The original post had his name changed. This is his real name and this is his story. 

Today is a great day.

Over a year ago, one of my officers nearly committed suicide, and today we found out he gets to return to full duty.

It was after midnight and Pete retrieved his unloaded service weapon, held it to his head and pulled the trigger just to hear it “click.” In an act in furtherance, he loaded the pistol and left his house intending to finish the job outside so his wife and kids wouldn’t find him. In a final act of reconciliation, he decided to call his sister-in-law and made a pact with himself that if she answered, he’d let her talk him out of it. But if she didn’t answer, he was prepared to end his life.
She answered.

I want to pause here for a moment and thank whatever higher power aligned the stars so she would answer the phone after midnight. When I ponder the alternate outcome had his call gone unanswered, I would be telling a different story.

His sister-in-law convinced him to phone a peer officer who happened to be on duty that night. He responded and convinced Pete that he needed to seek treatment. Pete went willingly to the hospital and voluntarily admitted himself for inpatient treatment at a mental health facility where he remained for five days and engaged in individual and group therapy.

After being discharged, Pete continued with outpatient treatment where he continued to get stronger and make progress towards wellness. I spoke with him several times during that time, and I was surprised by how open and forthcoming he was about his suicidal thoughts and what brought him to that moment where he nearly left this earth. He was facing his demons, and I felt with all my heart that he was prevailing.

It was shortly after that we received word that his Firearm Owners Identification Card (FOID) was being revoked under 430 ILCS 65/8(e) which prohibits a person who has been an inpatient in a mental health facility within five years from possessing a firearm.

This makes perfect sense to me. This is what we passionately protest when we hear of a mass shooting where a person with a mental illness was able to purchase a weapon. But there is a conflicting principle at play here and one that cannot be ignored.

Pete gained a medical release from his physician who found him fit to return to duty. I sent him to an independent medical examiner who came to the same conclusion, but because he was ineligible to possess a FOID card, Pete couldn’t work as a police officer. We filed an appeal with the review board of the Illinois State Police under a section of the law that provides relief to a law enforcement officer who did not act in a manner threatening to himself, another person or the public. They denied it based on his being a danger to himself, and this also makes sense to me. I do not for a moment begrudge the ISP review board for following the law.

Pete became overwhelmed by the stress of police work and the toll it takes on the family. He was walking around in distress and not one of us knew until he almost pulled the trigger that night. But it didn’t make sense to me that an officer like Pete who has worked as a police officer for over 20 years would lose his job because he asked for help.

But there is a liability and I get that. Imagine if the ISP were to give Pete his FOID card back and he did something unthinkable. There would be outrage and we would have no rebuttal given that the law is clear on the matter.

But having suicidal thoughts does not make a person mentally ill.

We decided to challenge the denial and filed for Pete’s case to be heard before an Administrative Law Judge. Pete’s attorney and all his supervisors in his chain of command testified on his behalf. I told the judge that I would not be advocating for Pete if I felt that he posed a danger or liability to our police department, his fellow officers, or the citizens we serve.

The judge agreed and felt that by a preponderance of the evidence that Pete was not a danger to public safety. Because the Illinois State Police has jurisdiction over the matter, it went to Director Schmitz who granted the petition. Pete returned to work and is flourishing. In fact, I feel that Pete is stronger having come out on the other side of this.

I fear this incident has sent an unspoken message to police officers that the last thing you can do when you are having dark thoughts is to ask for help. Rather, it’s contributing to the stigma in law enforcement where we pretend we are unaffected by the film reel of tragic events that plays over and over in our heads.

I understand the liability. I really do. But I think the greater liability is with an officer who is a ticking time bomb and refuses to seek help for fear of losing his or her job. Since this incident, we lobbied for legislation to be changed. Governor Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 5231 into law which prevents police agencies from requiring a FOID card as a condition of continued employment. But that doesn't change the culture where many still believe it is a stigma to be associated with the thought of suicide.

Some people think it’s weak to ask for help or to admit when they are overwhelmed. The truth is, there is nothing weak about it. It took great courage for Pete to call his fellow officer and ask for help and I think it’s time we honor courageous acts rather than punish them.


*If Pete's story is your story, reach out for help now: https://weneverwalkalone.org/log-in

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Hatred is the Highest Form of Contempt

Just one month after the mass shooting in our city, shots rang out again on the other side of the world and despite the distance, I could feel them here. The massacre in New Zealand was fueled by hatred, and though the circumstances were different, I can’t help but draw a parallel motive for the mass shooting at Pratt. 

Hatred. I was taught from an early age to avoid that word. I might dislike peas or a person, but to attached hatred to something is on another level. Maybe we have lost the conditioning to discern between dislike and hatred. Hatred is the highest form of contempt one can feel because it goes beyond indifference. Indifference is safe because not caring about something or someone is benign. It doesn’t evoke strong emotion or reaction because it doesn’t move someone to action or response. 

But hate motivates. Hate is fierce and consuming, and it drives human beings to do things that are unfathomable and unconscionable. When it takes over, everything goes dark, and everyone goes down with the person who possesses it.

I called the Aurora shooter an “evil soul” and was criticized for using those words. I stand vehemently by them because I looked into the eyes of every family member who lost their loved one and through sheer transference, I felt their pain. I sat at the bedside of the police officers who were struck by the bullets as they were running towards the gunfire. Interestingly enough, the officers were unphased. They would have gladly taken more shots that day if it meant saving lives, but the faces of their loved ones told another story.

I refuse to roll back or soften my words.

Anyone who can feel hatred to the point of consummation where it drives an act of violence against someone else possesses evil within them. And that is not a diagnosis used to defend violent action. You don’t get to assign mental illness as an excuse because nothing infuriates me more than creating a nexus of mental illness where there is the freedom of choice. It is insulting to those battling mental health issues to be compared with those who are fueled by hatred. These killers planned their executions. One brought a gun to work knowing he was going to use it. The other wrote a manifesto in preparation of the bloodshed. Freedom of choice is the greatest of human freedoms, and when it is driven by hatred, it is calculated and evil. Period.

I struggle to understand how someone can become so consumed with hating another person. Even more puzzling is hating a group of people because of their religion or race . Maybe that is the crack in my argument where some will affix mental illness to illustrate that the level of disdain can only be explained as being ill. I understand the need to have a diagnosis so it’s easier to grasp, but I’m not there.

Right now, I’m disgusted by these human beings who take out their anger and hatred on innocent people. Hate alone is a powerful thing and adding a firearm to that toxic formula is a force multiplier that ensures the keeper of the hate can do as much damage as possible. 

In Aurora, we have a strong and vibrant Muslim community. Our Muslim brothers and sisters from New Zealand are seemingly a world away but they are us, and we are them. In the wake of this hatred, please know that your Aurora Police Department and the citizens of this city have our hands on your back. 

Perhaps MLK’s words are befitting for Aurora – the city of lights:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Love more. Hate less.