I was surprised and saddened to read a few weeks back that Officer Jacob Lee had resigned under duress from his job with the Chattanooga Police Department and is under investigation “for criminal violations of federal law.” I have lived long enough to know that good people can have significant lapses in judgement. I have also lived long enough to know that truth and justice in cases like this do not always prevail. I don’t pretend to know if this situation is a case of the former, the latter, or somewhere in between.
What I do know is what I experienced personally with Officer Lee. I don’t know him well, but several years ago he was gracious enough to let me fulfill my ride-along requirement for Leadership Chattanooga with him. We spent a long, cold night patrolling an area that stretched from the river on the north to Workman Road on the south. It was a formative experience on a number of levels, but the most significant impact on me was the way Officer Lee conducted himself. We interacted with people of many races, genders, and socio-economic classes. Some of those people were experiencing what might have been their lowest moment.
Some appeared to me to be experiencing the latest of what had become a lifestyle of low moments. Many were suffering from mental illness, from neglect, from a life lived in systems that are not structured for them to succeed. Without exception Officer Lee interacted with them as equals. He calmed them. He met their eyes. He spoke to them by name. He carried out his duties firmly to be sure, but along the way he didn’t forget the “serve” in “serve and protect”. He stopped to see if a homeless man had enough blankets. He gave a young man several chances to tell the truth so as not to compound one mistake with an additional one. He stopped to confirm that a young mom had been able to get her utilities turned back on.
I could go on. What is the point of this? The point is that my view of the men and women in our police force changed because of that experience and I’m grateful to Officer Lee for that. The point is that even if Officer Lee is guilty of what is alleged, he is not fully defined by it and he deserves to have his story rounded out by those of us who have a very different experience of him. The point is really that he deserves to be shown the respect I saw him show that night. He did not seem to see a world split into simple heroes and villains. He seemed to see a world of people who exist as a complex mix of beauty and brokenness.
I wish Officer Lee the best and I thank him for teaching me.