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Police Families Feel Scared, Alienated

With anti-police sentiment on the rise, Jamie Huppmann is scared her police officer husband won’t make it home from work. 

Her husband’s squad car has been vandalized. When she takes her 10-month-old baby for a walk, she sees the stop sign outside her Baltimore home sprayed with curse words directed against police officers.

She has closed herself off from many friends and family members who have expressed contempt for all police following the death of George Floyd in police custody. 

“What happened to George Floyd was wrong, but not all police officers act like that,” Huppmann told The Epoch Times. Some have derided her for saying not all police are bad.

“I’m at the point that I don’t even want to say anything anymore,” Huppmann said. Like tens of thousands of police spouses across the nation, Huppmann has withdrawn from her social circles and turned to police spouse communities for support.  

The children of police officers are also suffering, mental health therapist Cyndi Doyle says. One police officer’s wife told her that she had a hard time explaining to her children a sign that read, “The only good cop is a dead cop.”

Children have lost friends, and some police spouses are afraid to take their children outside the house, Doyle said. 

“The fear that is being experienced by law enforcement families has not been seen, at least in the past decade or 20 years,” she said. Doyle has been working in mental health for about 20 years. She has also been married to a police officer for 20 years, and produces podcasts to support police wives. 

The experiences of police spouses vary widely in communities across the country, she said. While some still receive community support, many police spouses, especially in big cities, are struggling with the backlash against law enforcement.

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A vandalized car is flipped upside down as protesters face off against police in Oakland, Calif., on May 29, 2020. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)
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A woman holds a sign that says “Abolish the police,” across from a pro-police demonstration in Torrance, Calif., on June 20, 2020. (Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images)
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A woman puts her hand on a police officer standing between attendees of a Police Appreciation rally and counter-protesters at City Hall in Houston, on June 18, 2020. (Mark Felix/AFP via Getty Images)

“If they speak up and stand behind their officers, they’re going to be seen as a racist,” Doyle said. “That’s why a lot of spouses have turned inward, have gone to groups, or talk to each other to move through the trauma they’re experiencing.”

‘Both Blue and Black’

Kelli Lowe, president of National Police Wives Association, helps fellow spouses navigate the rough terrain through her talk-show-style video chats

The association has more than 150,000 followers on Facebook. Each of her videos receives tens of thousands of views.

“I think hearing from a spouse that is African American, that is willing to speak to what some of them are feeling in a direct and truthful manner, they appreciate,” she told The Epoch Times.

Lowe lives in St. Louis—near Ferguson, Missouri, where the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer in 2014 sparked protests and riots. Even before that shooting, many in her community looked at black police officers as traitors, she said. 

“It was hard to be both blue and black,” she said. 

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Kelli Lowe, president of National Police Wives Association, stands with her husband, Charles Lowe. Kelli Lowe has helped her community in St. Louis foster understanding between black youth and the police. (Courtesy of Kelli Lowe)
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A Molotov cocktail hits a police car during a protest in Ferguson, Mo., on May 31, 2020. (REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant)

In 2014, Lowe and other spouses prepared food for officers around the clock at a local command post. She helped officers and their spouses with their mental health and stability during that time.

“I have not heard one officer or spouse saying what was done with George Floyd was the right thing,” she said. 

Since Floyd’s death, demands for police reforms have emerged nationwide, along with calls to defund and even dismantle police forces. In Minneapolis, where Floyd lived and died, the City Council recently voted to dismantle its police force.

“The police reform doesn’t bother me; transparency and accountability is needed,” said Lowe, whose videos address reform issues and help women make sense of the changes occurring in their husbands’ profession.

“What does bother me is that the people that are making the policies are not sitting down at the table with the rank-and-file officers that work the streets every day,” she said. “That puts my husband’s life in jeopardy.” 

Bulletproof 

Some spouses are worried defunding the police might mean less money for safety equipment or mental health resources, Lowe said. 

“They are sitting at home encouraging their officers to resign, because they are concerned that all of a sudden they won’t get new bulletproof vests,” Lowe said. Bulletproof vests that are more than 5 years old are likely to be ineffective.

Lowe knows the importance of an effective bulletproof vest. It saved her husband’s life in 2015, one year after the Ferguson shooting.

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Demonstrators, marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown, protest in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 10, 2015. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

It was a hot summer day, around 5 a.m.?—five minutes after Lowe’s husband put on his bulletproof vest in his car?—a man shot at him through the car window.

The only bullet that hit him had hit the vest.

“If he hadn’t had the vest on, he probably would not have survived,” a doctor told Lowe at the hospital. 

When she left the hospital, a black protester was standing by her husband’s car with a sign that read, “How does it feel?”

The court trial was hard for her; it was hard to be in close proximity to the man who almost killed her husband, she said. 

When the gunman’s defense attorney argued that he had grown up without a father, without guidance or opportunities, Lowe thought of her son, who was 4 at the time.

“What about my son who almost lost his father?” Lowe said. Both her husband and the man who shot him are black.

“I could see tragedy on both sides.”

Lowe said she knows too many young black men who have grown up in the worst situations, which pushes them to desperation and crime

Her husband also grew up without a father, in one of the worst neighborhoods in St. Louis. But he made it to college and fought his way into the police academy, she said.

“There also has to be accountability for your actions,” Lowe said. “To me, it was just two sides of the coin.” 

She has worked with at-risk children in her community. She has also invited police officers to meet them, so the children see officers as real humans, not as bad guys running down the street after black teens.

“One life lost is too many,” Lowe said. “I’m not minimizing those lives that are taken by police officers, but I also want for people not to minimize the lives we’re losing in law enforcement.”

The two men involved in the ambush shooting of her husband were sentenced to 25 years and 30 years in prison.

In 2016, Lowe traveled to support the spouses of officers killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In both places, lone gunmen had ambushed police, killing a total of eight officers and injuring 15 others, amid protests against the police killing of two black men, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge; and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

Many police spouses fear the same kind of retaliation could be aimed at their husbands amid the George Floyd protests, they told The Epoch Times.

Fear of Retaliation

“What worries me most is that someone will take his life because of the uniform he wears,” said Elizabeth, a police spouse who declined to disclose her full name.

Her husband works near Seattle, where protesters have famously set up a “police-free” autonomous zone.

“I just don’t know if I can do this anymore,” her husband recently told her. He was in the military and became a police officer late in life. At 55, he could retire, but he had chosen to stay longer.

“He is there to help people, he is there to train up good officers, but the light is leaving him,” she said. “It breaks my heart.

“I’m afraid they are going to start quitting in droves, because the risk right now outweighs the reward,” Elizabeth said.

One of her biggest worries is that her husband might be disciplined or prosecuted solely for doing his job, which is a major concern to many police families, said Jessica Burke, a mental health consultant in California. Her husband is a police officer and she has been blogging in support of police spouses. 

Fear of Prosecution

Worries spiked, Burke said, after an Atlanta police officer was recently charged with murder for shooting a black man while on duty. 

In the June 12 incident, Rayshard Brooks grabbed a Taser from officer Devin Brosnan and fired it at him, causing Brosnan to hit his head on the pavement in a fast-food restaurant parking lot. Officer Garrett Rolfe then shot and killed Brooks.

Five days later, District Attorney Paul L. Howard charged Rolfe with murder and 10 other charges. Howard argued that Brooks posed no threat to Rolfe’s life, so the killing was unjustified.

University of Notre Dame law professor Jimmy Gurulé told The New York Times that the swift and hefty charges reflected a sense of urgency, fueled by the George Floyd protests.

Burke said the Atlanta incident differed from Floyd’s encounter with the police, since Brooks had attacked an officer. “Now, we have to worry about officers getting prosecuted for defending themselves,” Burke told The Epoch Times.

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Jessica Burke, who is the wife of a police officer and a mental health consultant, blogs in support of police spouses. (Courtesy of Jessica Burke)

Burke said other spouses have asked her questions such as: “What about my husband? What if my husband has to defend himself or somebody else? Will he go to prison for it?”

Charged With Murder

For police spouse Rachel Mitchell, those are more than hypothetical questions.

Her husband, John Mitchell, was charged with murder for killing an active shooter in Blackwell, Oklahoma, in 2019.

It happened around 3 a.m. on May 20, 2019. An emergency phone call reached John, who was off-duty and at home: A woman had shot at a civilian, and help was needed. 

The suspect, Micheal Ann Godsey, shot at a civilian and then at a police officer before she drove onto a highway; she reportedly was under the influence of drugs.

During the chase, Mitchell fired about 60 shots at Godsey’s truck. Another police officer fired several shots as well. Godsey died of gunshot wounds.

After the shooting, John was not himself for a long time, Rachel said.

“People don’t understand the trauma of taking a life, even though you were there protecting people and yourself,” she said. “It’s big.”

Six months later, District Attorney Jason Hicks decided to present charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter to a grand jury. Hicks argued that Godsey stopped her car at one point during the chase, and Mitchell failed to check if her intention was to surrender. It wasn’t clear why Godsey had stopped.

When Rachel heard the news, she broke down.

 “That’s the first time I truly cried in months,” she said.

“I told John, ‘How are we going to tell our kids if it comes down? How are we going to tell them?’ We live in a small town. You can’t keep stuff like that from them.” 

After the grand jury indicted John on both charges, Rachel couldn’t bring herself to tell the children, aged 9 and 11. She asked close friends to do it instead.

“It broke my heart, because they stayed strong,” Rachel said. “[But] when everybody else left the room, my 9-year-old started bawling. He thought his dad was going to prison.”

The Mitchell family received death threats on social media; John shrugged them off, but Rachel was scared.

“They’re never serious until the one time they are,” she said. For a long time, she dared not let the children leave the house by themselves, and she was scared of taking them into town. 

One day, when Mitchell took the children out fishing, a person who had already threatened the family appeared and started to videotape them, while taunting and yelling. 

In February, Mitchell’s second-degree murder charge was dropped at a pretrial hearing. He still faces the first-degree manslaughter charge. The next pretrial hearing is July 14.

After the incident, Mitchell was on administrative leave for months; he recently returned to work as a 911 dispatch coordinator.

“It kind of makes me feel a little better that he’s not out there,” Rachel said. “I feel for the wives of the other officers who have to work the street right now.”

‘Light and Hope’

Many wives whose husbands still work the streets flock to Allison Uribe’s police spouses community. Her Facebook followers doubled to more than 20,000 after the Floyd incident.

“There’s so much hate, there’s so much hurt and there’s a lot of pain. I think people are seriously just looking for some light and hope,” Uribe told The Epoch Times. “When they go to our page, I want them to see hope, I want them to see light.” 

Even before the Floyd backlash, it was hard being a police spouse, she said. 

“It’s just a different marriage,” Uribe said. 

The job has its dangers, along with its long and irregular hours that eat into holidays and evening time with the family. When her husband is home, the pressures of his job often make him either withdrawn or quick to anger.

Epoch Times Photo
Allison Uribe has formed online communities to support police families. (Courtesy of Allison Uribe)

One day, he came home and went into the nursery where their baby was sleeping. The shades were drawn and the room was dark, but she could see tears running down his face. 

“What’s going on?” she asked. He wouldn’t answer.

“I always thought it was me,” Uribe said. She almost left him three times. She knew her marriage was in crisis, until the day she got a Bible from a local church: “I was looking at Corinthians where it says, ‘Love is patient,’” Uribe said.

“I was thinking, I’m definitely not patient.” 

Uribe realized she had to change herself before she could change her husband, she said.

One day, he came home in a bad mood again. He slammed the door and shouted at the children. Uribe told the children, “Let him go.” She went upstairs and told him, “I’m going to give you some time.” 

When she came back, she found him sitting on the floor crying. 

“I saw a raped baby today,” he said. 

Gradually, Uribe was able to see things from his perspective. She realized it was difficult for him to constantly see the worst side of humanity, deal with all kinds of violent situations at work, and then come home and instantly flip the switch to play the role of dad or husband. 

“Patience was a yearlong lesson for me,” Uribe said. “Then I went into kindness.”

Her husband changed, too.

“That man doesn’t miss a Sunday now,” Uribe said.

Ten years ago, Uribe formed a Bible study group for police wives at her husband’s police department in San Antonio. A couple of years ago, she moved her group online, and her husband named it “Wives On Duty Ministries.”

“The name is so fitting,” said Uribe, “because in this law enforcement life, it’s not just the officer, but their whole family that stands beside them to serve and protect.”

After the Floyd incident, Uribe asked fellow spouses to pray for their husbands, and even to pray for those who wish death upon their husbands, but received backlash on social media.

When a man left a strongly worded comment asking her to stop supporting police officers, she responded, “I’m sure that you have people who love you, and who care for you, and who will not want harm on you. It’s the same way these wives on this page feel for their spouses.”

She told him, “[If you were in trouble,] I would be the first one to send my husband to protect you, because I want you safe.”

BY CARA DING

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