By any measure, Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King has had a rough couple of days. By that same standard, he may be one of the few people with the interpersonal skills, dedication to mission, and intestinal fortitude to handle it.
First, one of TPD's reserve officers was arrested by full-time officers for being intoxicated and for carrying a loaded weapon while under the influence. The reserve officer admitted to drinking 12 beers, and witnesses said he barely missed a head-on collision with another driver. Since cops should be held to higher standards than the general public, he had to be relieved of duty.
Then, word got around that a seasoned detective had posted a graphic meme and comments on Facebook that many in the LGBTQ community found not just offensive, but disconcerting. If a person charged with protecting and serving the public seems to have a problem with LGBTQ people, it stands to reason those individuals might fear they couldn't count on that protection if they came under threat. So they did what anyone who had a personal grievance with a public servant would do: They called the bosses - in this case, King and Mayor Sue Catron - to complain.
King and Catron could have brushed the concerns aside. After all, the problematic social media thread invoked a pastor's stance to explain, in a backhanded way, why some people of faith object to LGBTQ status. Many evangelical Christians believe, based on scriptural passages in the Old Testament and epistles - though notably, not the Gospels - that being gay, transgender, or otherwise fitting into that niche constitutes a sin. So while downplaying the matter would have earned King and Catron the wrath of the area's robust LGBTQ community, it would have also made them heroes in some quarters - and in others, inaction would have been met with ambivalence or apathy that likely would have dissipated before the next election cycle.
Instead, the two responded immediately by promising an investigation. And while it's easy enough to make a placatory pledge for a probe, it took real courage to openly criticize the officer's actions. Both officials said homophobia does not define who we are as a city, that the police force is here to serve every single person, and as King put it, "TPD takes great pride in serving the people and diversity of our city." That stance may cost these two some political capital, but it won't cost them where it counts, because they took the moral high ground.
As the LGBTQ community pointed out in a statement, its citizens "live, work, pay taxes, and attend religious services in the very community that local law enforcement is tasked with protecting." So even if officers take issue with someone's personal status, they are charged with treating every single person the same way: with the respect and dignity they deserve as fellow human beings. Or, if an officer is a person of faith, he can look at it from another angle: He is called to do unto others as he would have them do unto him. Nowhere in the Golden Rule is any stipulation made to suggest being LGBTQ negates a person's worth.
Some will say it's not fair that a cop can't express an opinion without repercussion. They would be wrong, because freedom of speech always comes with a price. There are certain fields where blatant bigotry is not acceptable, and law enforcement is one. The health care field is another, and so is journalism. That might not be the popular view today, when politicians have declared open season on anyone who disagrees with them. But just because our so-called leaders choose to act that way doesn't mean the rest of us must stoop to their level.
There is no reason to disparage decent, law-abiding people -- and make life more difficult for good cops -- by putting personal hate, fear or bigotry on public display. Those who can't keep their hearts open should at least keep their mouths closed.