An Open Letter to the Emergency Communications Industry
from Tyrell Morris, Orleans Parish Communication District Executive Director
My Fellow 9-1-1 Directors, Leadership and Emergency Communication Specialists,
It is as a friend and as a leader within the public safety industry that I pen this open letter to you today.After a long period of reflection and revelation during this tumultuous time in our nation’s history, I have decided to speak out because I firmly believe those of us in leadership positions have a responsibility to use our voices to generate a dialogue that is open, honest, difficult and bold.
The murder of George Floyd and the ensuing aftermath has, yet again, reminded us of the painful truth that although the words are stated plainly with in the United States Declaration of Independence, not all men are experiencing true equality within the confines of our great nation’s borders. The actions taken by those four police officers in Minneapolis when they murdered George Floyd were nothing more than another in a long line of gut-wrenching reminders that some lives are more valuable than others. While those officers should feel the full force of justice and be held accountable for their actions in the same form and fashion as any other civilian, the uncertainty surrounding their fate is not only familiar, but something that many of us in this country have come to expect.
With the backdrop of confusion and anxiety enveloping our country, I challenge you, the emergency communications professionals across our great nation – our Heroes Under the Headset – to a singular call to action: That we as professionals in the emergency communications industry fully accept and realize our role in ensuring equity within our communities. All emergencies, no matter how small or large, start and end with our centers and staff. We, along with our law enforcement partners, must establish ourselves as the standard-bearers for fostering and cultivating a system of equity that is grounded in accountability and ethical practices. We, as emergency communication professionals, work tirelessly every day to meet the needs of the people, and we must ensure, without doubt or ambiguity, that the people we serve understand that we perform our duties devoid of any possibility of bias or prejudice.
As we see and hear instances of law enforcement officers abusing their sworn oath to protect the people under their care, I understand that taking this particular stand can place emergency communication professionals in a difficult position, where support for the #BlackLivesMatter movements seems in direct contrast to the support for the law enforcement officers we work with, daily. I would strongly urge you to truly work to understand the movement and that it is impossible for all lives to matter, until #BlackLivesMatter. Support for law enforcement officers and support for the movement are not mutually exclusive; we can do both. OPCD, for one, applauds the men and women of the New Orleans Police Department for their commitment to ethical and constitutional policing, and look forward to supporting their continued efforts. And that does not mean we are not all actively seeking ways to be better, because we all are.
We can support our public safety agencies while also holding them accountable for their actions. That includes holding ourselves accountable, as well. We must ensure that every emergency we manage is done through a lens of equality.
Let’s be real, words have meaning. Emergency personnel respond to incidents based upon the picture we paint for them through our words, and the misuse of those words has great potential to create bad outcomes. As an industry, we must own our responsibilities to the citizenry, ensuring our industry is mindful, empathetic and, of course, #woke. Driven by sound policy, education and opportunity, we must commit to equality in service, every step of the way. In order to achieve these goals, diversity in our agencies, including leadership positions, must be a priority.
As a gay, African American man, it saddens me that people of color and of diverse backgrounds are so underrepresented within the leadership of our industry and, I think many of you will agree, it is well past time that our leadership began to more closely reflect the diversity of the people we serve each day.
To meet this end, I challenge you to participate in the change many in our country are so desperately trying to create. Seek every educational opportunity, run for office in industry associations, serve on standard writing groups and volunteer on committees. Do what it takes to infuse the voices of equality into our industry and the rest of the country until our society truly realizes its full potential as a diverse and equitable society.
Tyrell T. Morris, MBA, CPE
Orleans Parish Communication District