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Earlier this week, Chicagoans learned that a another police officer died from a self-inflicted gun wound, making that the third suicide in July. More than a dozen have been reported since 2018.

In a press conference about the rise in suicides, Chicago Police Department Superintendent David Brown said these incidents are difficult, especially at a time when policing has never been harder.  He continued to say that mental health is a top priority for the department.

These suicides follow shootings and deaths of other officers, including the high profile killing of Officer Ella French during a routine traffic stop. And recently, an off-duty officer was shot and paralyzed while attempting to break up a fight at a bar.

Despite claiming that mental health is a priority, Supt. David Brown and his leadership are catching heat for routinely canceling days off. A former advisor for CPD described practices around wellness as inhumane, citing that officers are severely overworked.

System of policing still corrupt

I have friends that are police officers. I’ve seen their fatigue and listened to the horror stories about policing Chicago’s streets. With limited to no days off, witnessing trauma day in and day out and being disrespected and disregarded, I can’t imagine their state of mental health.

I’ve also worked with many officers that have happily volunteered their time at community events I’ve hosted and attended. As a matter of fact, one of them – Officer Kenneth Griffin – runs the nonprofit organization No Matter What that works to support Chicagoland Youth meet their highest potentialNO MATTER WHAT! He told me that he was having difficulty signing teens up to attend an out-of-state retreat this summer because they’re just not interested.

Now, given the state of conflict between police and marginalized communities, some people could care less what officers are going through or doing to actually make a change–calls to defund the police and “F*ck 12” are still very real. 

And to be very clear, I’m completely cognizant of the historic oppression and communal harm caused by the system of policing and individual police officers themselves. Because I will never forget that the way slave patrols hunted, captured, brutalized and murdered enslaved Africans over 400 years ago is the same way police treated George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and countless others.

Separating individuals from the Chicago Police Department system

I also absolutely believe that some funding from policing should be redirected to schools but at the same time, if any crime happens in my presence (in my Madea voice), I’m calling the po-po.

But, there’s nuance in separating individual people from a corrupt system versus saying everything and everyone in that oppressive system is evil.

For example, the public school system is also rooted in racism and failing students with many teachers and administrators perpetuating the belief gap, knowingly fueling the school-to-prison pipeline and not doing a damn thing at all to nurture our kids’ genius. Does that mean we stigmatize all educators because the system is a failure? No. They deserve grace and praise for trying to do their best jobs within the confines of a raggedy and unjust institution–same as upstanding police officers.

So, I may catch some heat for saying this out loud but the police officers who are suffering mentally and emotionally while dutifully serving and protecting do matter, too. Give them the support and tools they need to do their jobs.

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work--"If not me then who?" As a strategist and injustice interrupter, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for radical...