Many police officers care about the people they serve; and do so with honor

We don’t often hear police talking about their duty to serve with honor, their sense of responsibility to protect the innocent, or the compassion they feel for young people caught up in a cycle of gun violence.

But we should.

Harrisburg Public Safety Commissioner Thomas C. Carter, Lt. Col. Kristal Turner-Childs, and Ernest “Pete” Baltimore participated in the recent Faith and Blue event at The Civic Club of Harrisburg that was moderated by the Rev. Nathaniel Gadsen. Both Turner-Childs and Baltimore are former Pennsylvania State Police officers. They all spoke with passion about their decades of service in law enforcement and their efforts to help communities of color.

Many police officers care about the people the serve, and do so with honor

Law enforcement honorees with the Rev. Nathaniel Gadsden (left) at the Faith & Blue event held recently at The Civic Club of Harrisburg.Joyce m Davis

Michael Butler, U.S. District Attorney Civil Rights Coordinator, spoke with equal passion about his efforts to use his skills as an attorney to level the playing field for Black and Brown communities that have long suffered from racism in the criminal justice system.

Carter, Turner-Childs and Baltimore, all African American graduates of Harrisburg High, spoke first-hand of the pangs of racism and being the first to break down barriers that blocked career paths for people of color.

Even Butler, who is white, spoke of his personal experiences with racism. Growing up in Philadelphia, he used to hang out with Black friends. He saw first-hand how police treated them differently from his white friends. He now works to change that.

Each of them were honored at the recent Faith and Blue event held at The Civic Club of Harrisburg to provide opportunities to connect communities with law enforcement officials. They all spoke of their lifelong commitment to creating safer communities for people of color.

Many police officers care about the people they serve, and do so with honor

The Civic Club of Harrisburg President Contrena Baltimore presents Commissioner Thomas C. Carter with an award in honor of his years of serve to the Harrisburg community as a police officer during ceremonies on Oct. 29, 2023.Joyce M. Davis

Baltimore described his struggle to convince his fellow law enforcement officers that he could do the critical job of a ballistics expert, the first African American to hold that position for the Pennsylvania State Police. He won them over and became highly respected in the field.

Many police officers care about the people they serve, and do so with honor

Former State Trooper Ernest “Pete” Baltimore speaks of his experiences as a law enforcement officer during ceremonies at the Civic Club of Harrisburg on Oct. 29,2023. Also honored were Lt. Col. Kristal Childs; Michael Butler, U.S. District Attorney Civil Rights Coordinator; and Harrisburg Public Safety Commissioner Thomas C. Carter.Joyce M. Davis

Turner-Childs told of a traffic stop that changed her life. A state police officer stopped her for speeding and addressed her as “Ma’am.” She had never been called “Ma’am” before in her life. The officer gave her a speeding ticket, but he treated her with such respect, she was determined to become a state trooper, herself.

Kristal Turner-Childs reflects on 25 years with Pa. State Police

In 2021, former Gov. Tom Wolf confirmed the appointment of Lt. Colonel Kristal Turner-Childs as deputy commissioner of staff for the Pennsylvania State Police, making her the first Black woman to hold the rank.

Despite the struggle to be taken seriously as a female law enforcement officer, Turner-Childs earned the trust of her male colleague. She became the first African American female to command a troop and the second to obtain the rank of Major. How’s that for overcoming?

Butler also has navigated considerable obstacles. He spoke of his continued struggle to convince some of his white colleagues of the reality of racism and its impact on the daily lives of people of color. He’s committed to the mission.

One moment in the event stood out most of all. It was hearing Commissioner Carter muse that he feels like a failure.

Thomas Carter

Thomas Carter is Harrisburg City’s Police Commissioner.

Considering the commissioner is one of the most respected and trusted law enforcement officials in our region; considering he is so trusted that people charged with crimes repeatedly have run into his office to surrender … considering his family’s roots run deep in the Harrisburg area, it was a stunning statement.

Carter has spent his entire career trying to serve and protect the people of Harrisburg, but he lamented his inability to stop young Black youth from settling their difference with guns.

He lamented the deaths of too many Black children lured into the tragic spiral of drugs and guns. And he pained for the countless families grieving the loss of fathers, brothers, and sons.

Commissioner Carter shouldn’t bear the burden of society’s failure to stop gun violence in Harrisburg or anywhere else. Nor should anyone in law enforcement bear that burden alone.

Persistent racism in all aspects of American society from housing to jobs to education to the entire criminal justice system have led to the desperation that continues to destroy the lives of too many Black and Brown youth in our communities.

People like Turner-Childs, Baltimore, Butler, and Carter are the good guys. They are providing hope to bridge the divide between law enforcement and people of color. We need more opportunities for them to share their stories of personal struggle.

We need more opportunities for our communities to see their compassion and to understand their deep commitment to serving with honor.

Joyce M. Davis is PennLive’s Outreach & Opinion Editor. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @byjoycedavis.

She served as Director of Communications for the City of Harrisburg in the administration of Mayor Eric Papenfuse, and worked with Commissioner Thomas C. Carter. She also is a member of the Board of Directors of the Civic Club of Harrisburg,

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