America’s elected officials have long been a source of inspiration and hope for our own people and millions of others across the globe.

For more than 240 years, politicians in our country have given voice to our collective joys while addressing some of our deepest fears.

Their words matter.

The men and women who serve our communities as police officers are no more perfect than the rest of us. What makes them heroic to me is their commitment to serve, their faith in the rule of law, and their desire to make a positive difference for their family and yours.

But lately, some politicians have failed us when it comes to voicing their concerns with the methods used by law enforcement officers to protect people in our communities who are threatened by those with no regard for the laws that govern a civilized society. 

At a time when we should be working together to unite our citizens and stomp out racism and prejudice wherever it exists, too many are fanning the flames of violence and making our police officers targets instead of heroes.

I write this as a member of the Virginia State Senate who walked American streets as a policeman after serving as an Army Ranger.

Every cop I worked with understands that there is a natural tendency for friction when dealing with enforcement of the law. You see, the true reality is, no one wants to encounter a police officer unless you really need one. 

I understand this.

I’ve walked into houses torn apart by domestic violence and abuse as it was happening. I’ve had a gun trained on me by drug dealers in neighborhoods where the gang leaders rule the streets. I’ve pulled over drunk drivers exhibiting obvious anger and fear.

I have felt the apprehension that comes with showing up where you’re not wanted to help bring peace to a tense situation.

But I also understand the apprehension people feel when approached by a police officer. There is tension and even fear on both sides of that encounter as recent events demonstrate.

That’s why I feel the need to challenge my fellow elected officials to get this right.

We must guard ourselves from jumping to conclusions too quickly and understand that behind every situation is a family. 

I know that on both sides of an interaction with law enforcement, there is family that cares about their loved ones. 

If for no other reason, that’s why those in elected positions – or positions of influence in the media – need to temper their comments. Instead of mere talk, we must work to build communities through mutual respect and understanding. We must be united in our purpose to build better relationships and neighborhoods.  It starts at home, in our churches, schools, and community.

The rule of law is critical to our success as a nation and is embodied in our Constitution. It is up to those in uniform to honor and uphold the laws passed by our elected representatives, and that is not an easy job.

Ronald Reagan said it best, “Our unique experience demonstrates that law and freedom must be indivisible partners. For without law, there can be no freedom, only chaos and disorder, and without freedom, law is but a cynical veneer for injustice and oppression.”

The men and women who serve as police across this country engage their fellow citizens every day with one goal:  to make their part of the world a little safer and a little better. They strive to maintain the balance between freedom and the laws that keep our nation stable and at peace.

Unlike other occupations of public service, most of the time police are responding to a situation where the outcome results in taking away someone’s liberty via arrest, delivering bad news, or helping the victims of various crimes in the immediate aftermath. 

It takes a special person to have the drive and ability to take on society’s ills day in and day out.

The men and women who serve our communities as police officers are no more perfect than the rest of us. What makes them heroic to me is their commitment to serve, their faith in the rule of law, and their desire to make a positive difference for their family and yours.

My challenge to my fellow elected officials – both Republicans and Democrats – is to pause before rushing to judgment and to speak in a way that reduces fear and apprehension.

When a police officer is targeted to be shot and killed, that’s an attack on a civilized society as much as it is on the man or woman in the crosshairs.

That means authority figures – in and out of uniform – must do better.

We all must do better.

Bryce Reeves is a former police officer, detective and Army Ranger, now VA State Senator.