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Deborah Gatrell: True patriotism is service and engagement

FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2001 file photo, firefighters work beneath the destroyed mullions, the vertical struts which once faced the outer walls of the World Trade Center towers, after a terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York. New research released on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 suggests firefighters who arrived early or spent more time at the World Trade Center site after the 9/11 attacks seem to have a greater risk of developing heart problems than those who came later and stayed less. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Her name is Jamie Campbell.

She is the first person I personally know to make the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. A lieutenant in the Alaska Air National Guard, she was one of four people killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2006.

There have been others, lost to suicide and training accidents. 9/11 is a terrible day in our history, another day that lives in infamy. Yet that day, we were all Americans first — not Republicans or Democrats. It was a unifying moment as we cheered our first responders in New York City and Washington, D.C.

I have also been to a combat zone, worn body armor and carried weapons I know how to use. Before going overseas, I planned my funeral and updated my will — as did the rest of my unit. It’s dangerous work.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” My faith also teaches me to spend my life in service to others. Many of my military friends work in law enforcement, where they continue to put their lives on the line in public service.

They’re caught in a brutal political tug of war.

Let’s be real. I know a thing or two about reform as a teacher. We’ve been reforming education for years and that won’t stop any time soon. Change is hard, but we owe it to our students to improve our practice and update the profession as times change.

This summer, Utah Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson identified three crises teachers are facing as students re-enter our classrooms: the pandemic, this summer’s racial unrest and unpacking racial injustice, and the loss of economic security for many. These cause toxic stress and significant social and emotional needs in our students, so teachers have hard work to do under trying circumstances.

Public safety personnel must also consider these crises. Law enforcement professionals must have conversations about improving to better serve residents, just like educators.

The West Valley City Police Department is a great example, achieving national accreditation — the gold standard in public safety — in 2017 after three years of hard work. The WVCPD is committed to transparency and has a functioning resident Professional Standards Review Board. The fact is we can all improve and should be open to these constructive conversations. That goes for all professions, and for each of us individually as Americans.

Right now there is a misguided idea that we must celebrate one narrow vision of the country, right or wrong. That is dangerous nationalism, not patriotism.

True patriotism today is service and civic engagement. It is working to improve our communities at the local level, including raising awareness of the unfinished work of improving race relations across the country. We cannot fix problems we cannot see, and we all have blind spots because our perspectives are largely limited to our own lived experiences.

The fact that I have not directly experienced racism does not mean it does not exist. The fact that I have not personally experienced police brutality does not mean it does not happen. At the same time, most public safety personnel are neither cold-blooded racists nor brutal. Likewise, 93% of Black Lives Matters protests this summer were peaceful.

But there is definitely work to be done, and criminals must be held accountable — whether instigators and vandals who violate the core tenet of nonviolent protest or police who murder and harass civilians because of their skin color. Blaming protestors and ignoring the larger issue is counterproductive, and not a new problem.

In response to a letter from eight Alabama Clergymen blaming Martin Luther King for inciting violence, he responded that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and, “The time is always ripe to do right.” Now is our time to make things right.

We must have these conversations without retreating to partisan corners. Let’s recommit to the patriotic work of building a better nation together, with liberty and justice for all.

Black and brown lives do matter. Given the documented disproportionate harm suffered by minority populations, let’s have honest conversations and work to improve — as individuals, as teachers, as law enforcement officers, as Utahns, as Americans.

That is the America I celebrate on Patriot Day as we honor the first responders who protect us by running towards danger every day.

Deborah Gatrell

Deborah Gatrell, West Valley City, is a candidate for Salt Lake County Council District 2. She teaches in the Granite School District and has served as a Blackhawk pilot and intelligence officer in the Army National Guard.

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