In the wake of the recent tragedies in Dallas and Baton Rouge, I was reminded this week of the commencement speech I delivered earlier this summer at the North Louisiana Criminal Justice Academy. This year’s outstanding class represented five different north Louisiana law enforcement agencies. My speech was unusual for a graduation ceremony, as I felt compelled to address the grave danger that these brave men and women were volunteering to face, and the tremendous gratitude that our community feels for their acceptance of that high and noble calling. It seems appropriate today to post that transcript.
Speech to North Louisiana Criminal Justice Academy Graduates
State Rep. Mike Johnson
May 20, 2016
Thank you for that very kind introduction, Sheriff Whittington. I am always honored to “have your back”—legally or otherwise. And, congratulations graduates!
I am truly honored to be here on this GREAT occasion. My father was an Asst. Chief Training Officer at the Shreveport Fire & Police Academy back in the early ‘80s before he got burned and permanently disabled in the line of duty—and, as a kid, I always loved attending the academy graduations. I've looked forward to this occasion and to the privilege of being here with you today.
I was thinking last night about the urgency of this hour and the magnitude of what you have been called to do.
A few years ago, a young man I know came to visit me to seek my advice about a major dilemma he was having. He was in the National Guard, and after a 6 month tour in Iraq, he came home and signed up for the Police Academy. He was about 3 weeks into the training when he came to see me.
He explained that he was suddenly struggling terribly with his decision because he said he had come to the realization that he couldn’t do the job. “...Do you think it’s okay for a Christian to engage in violence? I’m not sure anymore that I can do this. To me, it doesn’t seem to line up with our faith.”
I realized that this young man had been heavily influenced by some passivist voices in our culture. They’ve confused A LOT of this generation.
I tried to ease his concerns and encourage him—to explain that while not everyone may be called to serve in such capacity--- it is HIGH CALLING nonetheless.
I tried to explain that the men and women who serve in our armed forces as well in law enforcement, our firefighters, and all first responders must sometimes employ violence in the service of their fellow man.
I remembered and shared with the young man a famous lecture that was given by William J. Bennett to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1997. It’s one of my very favorite speeches of all time, and I wanted to share an excerpt with you this morning. He said:
“One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once told this to me: 'Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident.' This is true.
"Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another.
"…Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.
"I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me it is like the pretty, blue robin’s egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue shell.
"Police officers, soldiers and other warriors are like that shell, and someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful. For now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.
“'…Then, there are the wolves,' the old war veteran said, 'and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.' …There are evil men in this world and they are capable of terrible, evil deeds….’
“'Then there are sheepdogs,' he went on, 'and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.'
"If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath—a wolf.
"But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.
"Everyone has been given a gift in life. Some people have a gift for science and some have a flair for art. And warriors have been given the gift of AGGRESSION. They would no more misuse this gift than a doctor would misuse his healing arts, but they yearn for the opportunity to use their gift to help others. These people, the ones who have been blessed with the gift of aggression and a love for others, are our sheepdogs. These are our warriors….
"In nature the sheep, real sheep, are born as sheep. Sheepdogs are born that way, and so are wolves. They didn’t have a choice. But you are not a critter. As a human being, you can be whatever you want to be. It is a conscious, moral decision…."
It is an important moral decision to be made: between passivity and action.
And YOU, we are so grateful, have chosen to take action. On behalf of our state – and our community – THANK YOU!
And for those, like my young friend, who may ever wonder – make no mistake about it – this is the noble work of God.
For my Christian friends, I remind you of the clear admonitions of Scripture.
In Matthew 11:12, for example, we see that the Kingdom of God allows aggression: “From the days of John the Baptist until today, the Kingdom of God has been advancing at the hands of forceful men, and forceful men take hold of it.”
And, have you ever read through Romans 13, where the Scripture discusses “Submission to the Governing Authorities?”
Did you know that the Bible refers to each of you as “God’s servant” and an “agent of wrath?”
Romans 13:1-5 reads: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”
And so here you are this morning, being commissioned as one of our brave SHEEPDOGS. My friends, we NEED you in this field. We are living in dangerous, difficult times.
As the father of our country, George Washington, famously warned us in is Farewell Address: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.” John Adams, our second president, said it equally well: “Our Constitution is made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”
Their admonitions echo down through the generations to you and me. And yet, we have ignored their warnings.
As postmodernism and political correctness advance, religion and morality are being diminished. When moral absolutes are dissolved, society naturally becomes more coursened. When religious values diminish and lose influence – a culture becomes more dangerous.
Today, violent crime is an epidemic in America. Unimaginable evils, such as human trafficking, are becoming more common. Meanwhile:
• 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused by the age of 18, and 1 in 5 boys.
• Drug use and addiction are rampant, and society is becoming less civil.
• Today, even police officers are hunted down and murdered in cold blood.
• We could go on and on…
And yet, you have chosen to walk the Warrior’s Path.
Because of your gift, you are naturally compelled to jump in when you see evil and injustice. Something in you burns to make it right! That inclination you have is not ego-driven, but God-given, because your calling is to protect and defend – and to CONFRONT THE WOLF.
With all the love and compassion and fierce aggression that God has given you, and the exceptional training and preparation you’ve just completed – you are ready now to do what is right – to step out into that dangerous field, and even to give your own life, if necessary to protect the sheep.
That level of courage and commitment has never more important than it is today.
And we honor you for it. We thank you and your family. And we pray for your stamina and protection.
And we congratulate you.
Photo Credit: Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office