Conversations and Curiosity — JC

When I was coming up with the concept of wanting to have conversations with people who had viewpoints that would differ from my own, there was one person I thought of almost immediately. I had a good idea who they had voted for based simply on what I’ve seen from them on Facebook, and I was even more interested in speaking with them based on their profession as a police officer. More importantly, I’ve known this person for years, and I’ve always known them to have a level head and I knew it would be a great conversation.

So last night I met with JC at The Claddagh, one of my favorite bars in Toledo. I sipped on a 12 year Glenlivet, and he drank a few IPA’s over the course of our almost two-hour conversation that spanned thoughts on abortion, gay marriage, trade, being a police officer in today’s climate, post-election protests, and much more. What follows are some of the highlights from that conversation. In the interest of your time, and not wanting to write 3000 words (this is already 2200, for crying out loud), I had to edit out large portions of the conversation and try to stay focused on what I believe were the most interesting parts for public consumption.

First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room. I voted for Hillary, JC voted for Trump. Now, let’s also quickly address some potential pitfalls that progressives may or may not believe going into this conversation: JC is not a racist, misogynist, xenophobe, homophobe, sexist, or anything else that may have been attributed to Donald Trump. I’ve known JC for years, and he is an incredibly good man.

“…That’s what I’ve heard. That if you voted for Trump you’re a racist or a sexist or a misogynist or so many different words and I’m not any of those things. It’s just that, my viewpoints lined up more with Trump’s, unfortunately, than they did with Hillary’s. Now if it would have been Bernie (vs. Trump), it would be a whole different story. I don’t think we’d be sitting down having this conversation.” JC tells me early, and I believe him. Again, JC is a very good man. He tells me he has been on a journey over the last six years that have helped solidify his worldviews and is only just now starting to land in a place where he is comfortable.

Wanting to break the ice immediately, and trusting my relationship with JC, I got into it. I asked him about his vote. “So let’s do this; did you vote for Trump, or against Hillary?” JC had mentioned previously to me that he considers himself a conservative democrat, which as you read further on I think you’ll understand what he means by that, but that is why I wanted to ask this question first. “I voted FOR Trump” JC answered. He went on to say his vote was not in protest of anyone, and while he would explain further over our conversation a lot of viewpoints he agreed with Trump on, ultimately he stated early the bottom line;

“Trump showed support for police officers. Hillary did not. He backed the blue.”

It became clear over the evening that our perspectives can be greatly affected by our work. Especially when your work is something as important as law enforcement. For JC, being a police officer isn’t just something he clocks in and out of every day. It’s part of who he is. So this is a unique viewpoint to me, and one that I previously would not have understood.

We shifted our conversation more into how Trump tapped into the anger of blue collar America. JC mentioned that he thinks the “American worker is tired of being lied to” and what Trump did a surprisingly good job of tapping into, was that “As big of an idiot as he is, you kind of know what you’re getting out of him. He’s not afraid to speak his mind. He just seems like everybody’s candidate.” Listening to JC talk about this, I couldn’t help but wonder about the value we place on authenticity. Even if someone is rugged around the edges, if we perceive them as being authentic, it tends to go over better than someone that is so well rehearsed that you can’t tell if they’re being honest with you.

JC is a Type I Diabetic. He has some very real concerns about health care. So when Trump talks about Repealing and Replacing ObamaCare, he’s listening. “Without insurance, a vial of insulin costs $500, but yet a heroin addict can get Narcan for free,” He mentions before going on to talk about the financial strain that ObamaCare has put on small businesses; “With the prices of ObamaCare, a lot of companies have had to turn 1 full-time job into 2 part-time jobs.” We talked for a while then about how ObamaCare isn’t perfect, but we agreed that it was the first step and that maybe it’s not actually entirely Obama’s fault, but maybe some (if not most) of the blame actually needs to be on the insurance companies.

I’m in a privileged position of being in relatively good health and have extremely good benefits and healthcare provided through my job, so hearing about what other companies and people deal with when it comes to healthcare was enlightening for me. But, JC surprised me… I asked him next if he’d be in favor of Universal Healthcare. “In a perfect world, yes. I think everyone is entitled to healthcare. I’m a Type I Diabetic. I need my medication. I don’t know why we can’t model it after a country who has been doing it for years and it’s working.” Conservative Democrat, indeed.

As my scotch started getting low, and JC was on his third beer, we started circling back around to his job as a police officer. I asked him about the recent protests, about Black Lives Matter protests. He said a few things about how the Black Lives Matter movement needs to be about so much more than just police crime (his point being that we should value Black Lives in all ways, not just from police crime on black lives), and then he told me a story that just really made my heart hurt;

“…I was coming into work recently, my birthday was actually the date the day all those Dallas cops were shot. I went into work the next day, but before I did, every three days the gas station across the street from where I work has a ‘Buy 3 Rockstars for 5 bucks’ deal, so I have one for each day I work for the next three days. So I went in there, in my uniform, and there are three black high schoolers, and they looked at me, and it just got quiet. And, I got in line, right behind them, they stayed quiet, and personally… I was scared. I didn’t know what they were going to do.

Whereas for me I went through all of High School and College being friends with black people, dating black women, I’ve had no problems and I’ve never been scared. Now it’s on both sides. When they see a white cop, they’re afraid of them. ‘What’s he going to do?’ And, being a white cop, seeing black males ‘what’s he going to do to me?’

It’s terrifying. And it shouldn’t be that way. When I look at them I should see high schoolers, when they look at me they should see a cop, not a murderous white guy with a badge. And I shouldn’t see, you know, whatever stereotype you can come up with; a thug, a drug dealer, a rapist, whatever they have, you know. It shouldn’t, it should not be that way. But that’s kind of the situation the media has driven us to, and it’s not okay. So there really needs to be a whole mind change, where we need to bring that trust back.”

There it is. This is why I wanted to have these conversations. All of a sudden I can understand why his profession is so important to him, and why it is so important to him that Trump supported his profession, and why JC then felt compelled to support Trump. This is the empathy our country needs, that I have needed.

He mentioned that “I guarantee the nation doesn’t know that over 20 officers were killed over the last week.” Personally, I didn’t know that, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that and it’s a travesty. The media covers these things when it’s convenient for them or when their ratings need it (turns out, most of those officers killed were by white people, so, I don’t know, guess it doesn’t equal ratings this time).

He went on… “I watched the Democratic National Convention when Hillary had the families of the people who had been killed by cops come up and speak on her behalf. I just felt very disrespected because on the same end you also have all these cop’s families that have been killed. And you’re saying that we are taking fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, mothers, sisters… Cops, like it’s all of our faults. And, I just could not get behind that.”

I can see his side. It’s not fair to pin everything on some bad incidents. And to JC’s credit, he understands that there are some bad incidents. “I see the faults in the people that I call my brothers and sisters, and I see the faults in not just black people; everybody. Just the clear defying of authority.” JC does not minimize the bad things that have happened, he owns that for his profession. Where he has a problem, like I and so many of the rest of us would, is with the gross overgeneralizations.

Later, he would share with me that he believes that healing is possible, and is happening. All hope is not lost. He shares with me a story that happened to him recently that makes me believe we still stand a chance, and reminds me that it starts with the little things… “While sitting in my (police) cruiser, a middle-aged black man approached my passenger side door. He stuck his arm through the window opening, shook my hand, and thanked me for my service. He didn’t fear for his life. I didn’t fear for mine. His unprovoked gesture proved to me that there are still people in this world who will not form opinions or cast judgment just by the color of your skin or the uniform you wear. That is being part of the solution we need as a country.”

Staring at the bottom of my empty glass, knowing we were reaching the end of our time together, we continued to turn our conversation to how we start moving forward. The discussion landed largely on how people treat each other on social media. We were talking about the gross overgeneralizations shared in the form of memes when something JC said kind of floored me: “For me, I see the inequalities. I’m part of the ‘oppressors.’ I see that changes are needed, but this isn’t the way to go about it. I get really ashamed when I see some of my black friends, who call me friends and I call them friends, and their anti-cop propaganda on facebook and stuff. And it’s like, you’re calling me a friend and in the same breath you’re sharing all this stuff, knowing what my profession is.” It was gut wrenching to hear JC talk about how impactful social media can be on him. I think people have forgotten, this year especially, just how much words matter. This is not a jab at any one candidate, I mean this for everyone, I mean this for me. One of the wisest pieces of advice I’ve received in my lifetime is that “it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.” If we all remembered that, myself included, before we opened our mouths (or began to type), I can’t begin to imagine how much better the world would be.

We paid our bills and walked out. As we walked to our cars we talked about the previous evening’s UFC fights and shook hands before saying goodbye. For the first time in a week, I felt hopeful about the potential future of the country. I am not an extrovert, even meeting with someone I’d call a friend is hard for me at times. Yet, listening and learning about what other people deal with is going to be the only way that this country finds common ground. We have to do better. We have to return to civility. I honestly believe it’s going to start with people like you and me, and conversations like this. We cannot count on our elected officials to be our peacemakers.

We have to be the change. It starts with us. It starts with a conversation.