This post is a reaction to the response by Mr. Aitken, published in the Tribune Star January 9th, to my comments on the Terre Haute Police Department’s recent acquisition of a Bearcat, Armored Emergency Response Vehicle. First, I want to thank Mr. Aitkin for taking the time to read my comments and provide a thoughtful reply. One reason why I write letters to the newspaper and engage in public forums is because I hope to be a small part in restoring the art of civil discourse in our society, and in that spirit I want to respond to Mr. Aitken’s questions and concerns.
The first question was, “would you respect your country, or your military superiors, had they sent you into combat with a .22 to shoot with…,” the truth is that they did send me into combat with a .22 rifle! There is no shortage of theories as to way the United States and NATO chose the 5.56x45mm, or .223 caliber, ammunition as a standard round, but they did. I did not lose respect for my superiors based on their decision to send me into combat with this rifle. In the Marine Corps we are taught to “adapt and overcome,” and that is exactly what Marines have done. Through the process of adapting and overcoming the Marine Corps continues to be an elite fighting force, with almost every infantryman carrying a .22 caliber rifle.
Adapt and overcome, this is what I am asking our police department to do as well. We live in an ever-changing world and based on that reality we must be prepared to adapt to those changes. Some might say that the department’s acquisition of armored vehicles is an attempt to adapt to the better fire power that Mr. Aitkin said, “so many dangerous individuals can get their hands on these days.” But military equipment was designed and built to fight against enemy combatants, not American citizens.
As a child my father worked as a carpenter, and one thing he taught me was that there is a right tool for every job. And just like a finish carpenter would never use a sledge hammer to drive a nail into a delicate piece of trim work, our law enforcement agencies should not be using military equipment to “keep the peace.” The relationship between a community and their local law enforcement agency is a delicate balance of trust and cooperation, and these vehicles are damaging that relationship.
I remember going to the highway with my family to pay respect to officer Pitts as the motorcade for his funeral came near our home. It was heart breaking to see how much pain one event could cause a city. As a minister I have committed my life to helping people find peace in their souls, and helping our community find peace in a troubled world. I pray that no family in Terre Haute ever has to receive the news that their loved one was killed in the line of duty. I know that I have angered many people by speaking out on this topic, and I know that if the Terre Haute Police Department gets rid of these vehicles it will upset many more people. If they do send these vehicles back it will go a long way in building an even stronger bond of trust between the police department and the community they have sworn to serve and protect.
The Painting at the top of this post is “The Runaway” by Norman Rockwell