Photo: Trooper Michael McSellers walking with his son.
Chaos. Pandemonium. Out of control. Organized confusion. Disorder. Violence. Unruly. Call it what you want but these simple words describe the vast majority of the kind of incidents cops are called to deal with everyday. Somebody always has something against someone else that most often results in a disturbance of some sort. People are constantly fighting and arguing about something and no one seems to know how to deal with their issues in a peaceful manner. Even in the midst of a tragedy people can’t seem to muster up the ability to allow aid to be rendered without the situation turning into more than a nightmare that it might not have to be. Sometimes I actually find myself getting literally angry at people for their inability to deal with conflict in a way that the police needs to be called.
Some time ago, while on night shift, we received a shots-fired call in a neighborhood that is known for that kind of an incident. It was around 3:00 in the morning but you would never know it by the number of people who were out and about. While in route to the call we were informed that someone had, in fact, been shot. I was the first officer to arrive on scene which I found to be in the condition of any of the words above. The crowd was so out of control that it was difficult to locate the victim who I discovered was on the front porch of the residence where the crowd of people was located. I was told the victim had been shot in the face with a shotgun. Surprisingly the victim was alert and even able to get up on his feet, which meant I had to make sure he stayed in one place while trying to deal with the crowd of people that was growing larger by the minute. At one point, my attention was diverted to the crowd of people for just a few seconds. I turned my attention back to the victim and he was no longer on the porch. He was stumbling around in the front yard of the residence while his friends were trying to “help” him.
Everyone was yelling and screaming. Some were shouts of anguish as they watched their friend and family member bleeding profusely from the face, fearing he was going to die. One teenage girl in the crowd was having a literal meltdown when she saw her friend lose consciousness, thinking he had just died. Others were shouting at me about where the shooting actually took place and who the shooter was.
For what seemed to be an eternity, I was outnumbered and not sure if the shooter was still in the area or if I was going to be crushed by the crowd. No one wanted to listen to my commands to get back to give the victim some room to breathe. My commands for everyone to “calm down”, if that was even possible, were totally ignored.
The rest of my squad finally arrived on scene, all three of them, which made very little difference in getting the crowd under control. If it had not been for deputies from our local Sheriff’s Department responding to the scene to provide back-up, it could have gotten a lot worse.
Thankfully we were able to contain the situation without any further major incidents, with the exception of me having to arrest one of the “concerned” members of the crowd when he thought it would be okay to take down the crime scene barrier tape I had put up. Alcohol induced stupidity will cause people to do such things. The victim, whom we later learned had started the shooting when he shot at the one who shot him in the face, survived but ended up losing the use of one of his eyes. The other offender was apprehended a few weeks later.
This incident is just one example of the kind of chaos law enforcement has to deal with on a regular basis. This is also the kind of chaos and disorder law enforcement will have to deal with until the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to this kind of behavior that we are called to be keepers of the peace.
The words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God”, are very often used to describe the work we do. The question I ask, “Are we peacemakers or peacekeepers?” And yes, there is a difference.
Consider the definition of the word peace that is used in the Biblical passage. It comes from the Greek word from which we get the name Irene. It denotes a state and not a relationship or attitude. It is the opposite of war and disturbance and is the absence of hostile feelings. It is referring to those who promote human concord as opposed to general well-being or peace with God.
There is another school of thought on this passage that says this peace is referring specifically to an inner peace. In this sense, the peacemaker is one who takes the message of grace and forgiveness to those whose hearts are in chaos. The peacemaker is one who works at making peace by openly and honestly dealing with issues that result in unrest and the absence of peace. It is a refusal to avoid confronting issues and talking about the problems that are actually causing unrest.
As peacemakers, we step into the midst of chaos and try to change the climate of a situation to peace, which is most of what we do. We look for ways to resolve a problem that will result in the absence of conflict, unrest and whatever else you want to call it. Many times this is as simple as getting someone or some people to put their differences aside. Other times it takes a more aggressive approach such as making an arrest all the way up to the use of deadly force. The problem is that this kind of peace is only temporary and sometimes very short-lived.
What we need to remember is that this kind of chaos originates in the heart of man. Jesus makes that fact known as recorded in Matthew 15:19 when He said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” So until the heart of man is changed, there will never be permanent peace.
Is there anything we can really do to keep people from hating each other? Is there anything we can do to make someone be honest? What can we do in the process of law enforcement to stop people from actually killing one another?
Until the heart of man is changed, there will be no change in the heart of society. Unless the heart of man is changed, no amount of police presence and police intervention will ever bring about the absence of conflict and hostility that runs rampant in our communities. Trying to build positive relationships with the citizens of our communities is a good and noble cause but it will not totally fix the problem either.
All that said, this doesn’t mean we just sit idly by and let the chaos go on. We still have a duty to do what we can to face this enormous challenge of being peacemakers and peacekeepers.
And then there is the chaos and conflict among those of us who are supposed to be promoting this kind of peace in our community. The severity of the times in which we live and work demand that we work at not allowing issues within our agencies divide us and keep us at odds. There is a real need for peacemaking and peacekeeping within the walls and halls of our judicial agencies, all the way from the rookie in the squad car on patrol to those who dictate how we do our job. There will always be disagreements. To expect otherwise would be foolish.
This is a world of chaos in which we live and work and it will be this way until Jesus comes back. And it is this kind of chaos and conflict that we in law enforcement are called to be peacekeepers and attempt to be peacemakers – both on the streets and in our own agency. It is a never-ending work and it is costly in so many ways. May God give us the courage to fulfill our calling as law enforcement officers by doing all we can to promote peace on the streets and within the walls of our own agencies.
People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. George Orwell
Sergeant David Underwood is a 12 year veteran of the Moultrie (GA) Police Department. He currently serves as the department’s evidence custodian, crime scene technician, general instructor and department chaplain. Prior to law enforcement, he was a pastor for two decades.