Sad­dened for deaths, up­set at of­fi­cer’s in­sen­si­tive com­ment

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

I am a for­mer crime pre­ven­tion spe­cial­ist. The minute I learned of the tragic ac­ci­dent and deaths of the West­lake stu­dents, my heart sank with sad­ness. The first rea­son was be­cause I knew there were some very dev­as­tated par­ents, stu­dents and staff in my com­mu­nity. The sec­ond rea­son was be­cause my daugh­ter grad­u­ated from West­lake High School in 2016 and I was a board mem­ber of the PTSO dur­ing her se­nior year. The West­lake fam­ily will al­ways be fam­ily to me. I fig­ured the lo­cal po­lice would part­ner with Charles County Pub­lic Schools and the lo­cal state driv­ing in­struc­tors at the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land (CSM) to launch a safety tour to all of the county’s mid­dle and high schools with a planned rally to pro­mote safe driv­ing. This kind of plan may, in fact, be in the mak­ing. But never would I have thought I would be read­ing about such in­sen­si­tive and ac­tion­able com­ments from a sea­soned po­lice of­fice re­gard­ing this mat­ter.

When my 15 year-old reg­is­tered for the driv­ing pro­gram at CSM, par­ents were re­quired to at­tend ori­en­ta­tion. The in­struc­tor shared one tragic story af­ter the next. In fact, it seemed like an over­load of sad sto­ries. I later re­al­ized this tac­tic is widely used when com­mu­ni­cat­ing to teen driv­ers. One of the main rea­sons is be­cause, by na­ture, teenagers feel in­vin­ci­ble. When we were teens, we too, felt in­vin­ci­ble. In the minds of many teens, “young peo­ple don’t die.” There are plenty of us (adults), who, mirac­u­lously, lived through some pretty dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions. If we were to think back, all of us could find a few acts from our own teen and young adult lives that could have eas­ily led to tragedy.

Our re­spon­si­bil­ity, as ma­ture and ex­pe­ri­enced mem­bers of this com­mu­nity, is to show em­pa­thy in ways that re­flect who we are. As a par­ent and for­mer PTSO mem­ber of the school, I of­fered my con­do­lences and shared my mu­tual grief with other par­ents. For more than 10 years, I had the priv­i­lege of work­ing in law en­force­ment and, oc­ca­sion­ally, read­ing job ap­pli­ca­tions for can­di­dates wish­ing to be­come po­lice of­fi­cers. What I re­mem­ber, about read­ing those ap­pli­ca­tions, is that 100 per­cent of them shared a com­mon rea­son for want­ing to en­ter into the field. No one said to crit­i­cize peo­ple, to mis­treat peo­ple or to show dis­re­spect. 100 per­cent of the es­says I read shared this com­mon rea­son why can­di­dates wanted to be­come po­lice of­fi­cers: “to help peo­ple.” I want to thank Sher­iff Troy Berry and the friends of the of­fi­cer who in­stantly knew that his com­ments were in­sen­si­tive, in­ap­pro­pri­ate and ir­re­spon­si­ble. I send my deep­est con­do­lences to the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims and the West­lake com­mu­nity. I es­pe­cially ap­pre­ci­ate the po­lice of­fi­cers who re­sponded to the scene to try their best to save lives, with­out judg­ment. Yvonne Smith, Wal­dorf

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