By: Eric Doeh
I once believed that only in my dreams a black man would become President of the United States. Now, eleven years after that dream was realized, we are facing our darkest fears, testing our resiliency, challenging our leadership and defining what it means to protect and serve our communities. We are on the precipice of a defining moment.
When I came to this country at age eleven, the hope of a better future was the mantra that resonated in my ears. A better future shaped by my mother’s tireless work in nursing homes taking care of white folks. A future built on the foundation of God, country, family, character and education—the basic building blocks constructed by my father and grandfather.
As a former state and federal prosecutor, and a widower to a former Detroit Police Officer who served for over twenty years, the time for change is now. The time is always right, to do what is right. There are some people who do evil things to others. We need to protect our communities against such people. To my law enforcement friends and colleagues, the community will support you when you see yourself as part of the community. Like many of you who are husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers, who simply want to make it home safely, black men want to make it home safely.
For some of my law enforcement friends and colleagues who believe that the protest against injustices and the words “Black Lives Matter” is somehow an affront on them, or an indictment on them, or a disrespect to them, my response to them is – challenge yourself to look deeper and create change. This is a systemic problem. A profession that a significant population of its rank cannot come to the reality that there is a major problem amongst some of its members, is a profession marred by disillusionment.
If the murder of George Floyd did not shake your foundation or send shockwaves to your conscience, there isn’t enough ink that I can put to paper to awaken you. When the guy who is supposed to be the good guy, snuffs out the life of an innocent man for all of us to see around the world, an imbalance is caused and must be set right. This imbalance has existed for too long and some of us have pretended and even closed our eyes to its presence. Some of us have defended and perpetuated this systemic act of injustice and even violence, as if somehow it would be corrected by someone else, or worse, rested on the notion that it affects someone else.
For those who are advocating for defunding the police, a hacksaw approach to an issue that may require a scalpel, is not the panacea. We have seen the effects of budget shortfall on poorer communities and crime rate. Better recruiting practices, better community policing, better engagement of community leaders, resident requirements for police officers (or at least a significant percentage within the department), holding police chiefs and other ranking officers accountable, standard police practices set by local, state, and federal leadership, and tougher legislation aimed at prosecuting officers who break the law and violate the rights of people, are just a few areas where changes will lead to a better relationship.
Police agencies throughout the nation are trained in de-escalation techniques, crisis intervention and mental health first aid. If defunding the police involves allocating appropriate funding for mental health services, you have my support. Over 80% of persons charged with misdemeanor offenses who are housed in the Wayne County Jail have mental health challenges. Investing in programming that prioritizes mental-health treatment and early prevention would help lessen the strain on police services and give treatment to persons in need.
There are some outstanding law enforcement officers, I married one. My wife not only encouraged me, but motivated me to become a better person each and every day. One of the many things I admired about her was the fact that she was never an enabler, bashful or reluctant to call me out when my actions were ill-fated or simply wrong. That’s what a good partner and teammate does, they step in to correct you when you step out of line.
Eric Doeh is the Deputy CEO and Chief Operating Officer at the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network; he also served the citizens as an Assistant United States Attorney and an Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor.