As the wife of a police officer, I felt the polarization in our nation grow wider and wider with each negative story that came out involving police. Either you supported police or you didn’t. The voices of those who didn’t were like a stabbing knife when my husband, Greg, was killed on Sept. 30, 2015. It felt as if his service and sacrifice were not valued or appreciated, and it hurt deeply.
That is why I spoke out following his death. I wanted to promote a loving narrative that celebrated his service and did not create further division. It is also why I started Heroes In Blue: I wanted to bring awareness to the great things police do every day and to help bridge police and community relationships.
Recent events have propelled me to speak out again. Local events, like the “Live PD” high-speed car chase involving the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. National events, like the court ruling in the Philando Castille case and the shooting of New York Officer Miosotis Familia. And even my own personal experience with the sentencing of Jarvis Hall, the man who shot my husband. They all bring me back to this: Loving people, all people, should not be controversial.
Each of these cases involved multiple people in pain, multiple people whose lives were impacted, even destroyed. Each of these cases sent ripples far beyond those directly involved and led to people feeling devalued. In each of these cases, people rushed to share their pre-conceived notions. And for all of it, my heart broke.
Too often, we rush to an opinion and stop listening to each other. We stop feeling for each other. In doing so, I believe we forget the humanity in each situation and further widen the gap growing between us.
I get it. When people are in pain, they seek what makes them feel safe. When people feel threatened, they join forces with those they trust. But I believe that if we want to see change — and I mean real, true, transformative change — we need to see our efforts as more united than divided. We need to acknowledge that the problems that impact one of us impact us all.
Are there structural and systemic issues that need to be addressed? Absolutely. At the same time, I believe we also need to do more to recognize our own personal responsibility. We play a critical role in making change happen from the ground up. There are no winners when we have an us-vs.-them mentality. Every life lost is a loss to us all. It is only by finding common ground that we will see change. United we are a force for good that can create a tidal wave for change.
We are trying to do just that with Heroes In Blue. For example, we are partnering with Harvest Hope Food Bank as part of our compassionate acts program. We have heard time after time that police often come across families who are hungry, children without food and elderly people who are living alone without support. When this happens, police have to figure out how to ensure that the individual is cared for. Too often, their only option is to turn the situation over to the Department of Social Services or some other agency that might create unintended consequences. But what if there was another option?
Greg’s Groceries will be another option. Through the initiative, we plan to provide law enforcement officers with non-perishable food boxes. Each box will provide enough food to feed a family of six for seven days. The idea is that officers can provide people in need with the boxes, and as a result provide an intermediary option before turning to more extreme measures.
But the vision doesn’t stop there. We plan to have police funnel back valuable data to Harvest Hope to help it direct resources to those who are hungry. We view this as a win-win-win that provides police, Harvest Hope and people in need with resources to make a difference.
We hope to start Greg’s Groceries on a limited scale before the end of summer. It is just one example of what we are seeking to do: Rather than finding blame, we are looking for solutions. We are seeking to build on the many strengths in our community to drive change. We are choosing to be a part of a positive, united movement.
I am finding my own voice in this movement. I am searching within myself for the courage to love all and the bravery to speak out about it. It is time we make unity the norm. It is time we lead with love. Who is with me?
Mrs. Alia is founder and president of Heroes In Blue, a nonprofit committed to promoting positive police and community relationships and providing support to the families of fallen police officers; she also works with 100 Million Healthier Lives. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.