I attend a fair number of #BlackLivesMatter and local justice events in Lansing. This morning I was at Action of Greater Lansing‘s Martin Luther King prayer breakfast held at Union Missionary Baptist Church. Lansing Police Chief Mike Yankowski was in attendance at the breakfast this morning. He didn’t have to be there, he was there at a spectator and supporter, just as I was.
Chief Yankowski was the only uniformed police officer in a room of over 300 people.
I try to be honest and objective in my blog posts. I’ve written a fair number of blog posts calling out police brutality against blacks over the years. I found Chief Yankowski’s presence at the prayer breakfast this morning to be refreshing and shows an incredible amount of humility, love and courage on his part. I personally give him a lot of respect and I hope that the greater Lansing community does as well for his presence this morning, and at the many other events like this he attends.
I’m sure there are some uncomfortable moments for him at these events. It’s not that this morning’s breakfast was a police-bashing session, but there were some strong spoken word poems delivered by teen boys from Detroit about police brutality and at times, even though he was one in a crowd of 300, Yankowski’s light blue police uniform and badge may have felt a bit hot on his skin. Much respect to not only an officer in uniform to sit there and allow the community to express themselves and to humbly listen, but this man is the Chief of Police. He’s in the top leadership position. While being a pastor certainly has its leadership challenges and stressors, it’s probably a walk in the park compared to leading a police department of a metropolitan area. Chief Yankowski had a lot of other things he could have been doing with his time this morning, both professionally or personally, but he decided to put his uniform on and go into what had the potential of being a hornet’s nest for him. Doing so as an act of bridge building and listening, doing what he can to make Lansing a better and more just place for all. As I mentioned, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Chief Yankowski at these events. He’s a regular; with other appearances at events where the spotlight on the police was much harsher, such as town hall meetings or #BlackLivesMatter events. I don’t think it can be overemphasized how many tasks are on this man’s to-do list and in the limited interaction I’ve had with him, he commits a large amount of time toward these community building events and being open to humbly listening to citizens’ honest and raw emotions about the injustices in our country and in our community.
As a spectator, I’ve also seen Chief Yankowski put his money where his mouth is. In the wake of all of the tragedies of police brutality against blacks, I’ve been very vocal in endorsing the need for body cameras. Both to provide accountability for predominantly white officers that’s been missing since our nation’s inception, as well as to protect good officers from being lumped in with the bad. It’s been very encouraging to see Chief Yankowski and the Lansing Police Department being early adopters of body cameras, with a trial run in 2015 and now instituting them to their entire force in 2016.
Being a police chief is a job most people would be terrible at. You’re responsible for the actions of many and there’s no way to make everyone happy. Nobody is perfect; that’s the peril of leadership, and I’m sure Chief Yankowski gets his share of darts thrown at him for one reason or another. I’d like to take a moment to simply say thank you to him and that I have great respect for a white police chief who is willing to be an in-person listening ear the way he has been to the Lansing community in regards to police brutality. He is positive and proactive and genuinely cares.
Check out this recent WLNS article on LPD’s initiatives for 2016, which include the department-wide body cameras, as well as some great community involvement initiatives, getting police officers into schools and neighborhoods on a relational level. (All things advocated by the #BlackLivesMatter movement)
Thank you Chief Yankowski and thank you Lansing Police Department.
WLNS interview with Chief Yankowski:
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