WASHINGTON -- As American citizens share their frustration over the racial divisions and call for police reform across the nation, The Army provost marshal general and his sergeant major delivered a video message to all military police on fostering a culture built on trust and acceptance.
The three-minute video, "Let’s not just talk about it -- Let’s BE ABOUT IT," by Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen and Sgt. Maj. Larry Orvis Jr. was posted this week to social media platforms. The message was intended to reach the more than 34,000 MPs in the Army’s three components and about 8,000 civilian personnel who support them, including Department of the Army civilian police, Army security guards and special agents.
The message is also meant to raise awareness among all audiences of the opportunity to foster a culture of change in how others are treated, Vereen said.
Vereen, the Army’s first African-American provost marshal general, asks leaders and Soldiers to listen to one another and actually “see” each other as individuals.
“See me as a black man,” he says in the video. “See me as a father with black sons.”
Vereen explained during a phone interview Monday that he still reminds his three adult sons about how they should conduct themselves in a respectful manner if pulled over by police off post.
“I have to have that conversation with them,” he said. “My sons are nervous right now; and not just my sons, but those who have young men, they too are feeling this uneasiness with what has recently happened in our country.”
His message is simple: “Leaders need to take time to ask their Soldiers how they feel,” he said.
“I am concerned there are members of our MP family who don’t feel seen during this time,” he goes on to say in the video.
It just takes a few minutes to listen and understand, he explained over the phone. He urged leaders to get to know their Soldiers.
“The questions are not necessarily hard,” he said, recommending setting up an environment to engage in dialogue with an opening question as simple as “How are you doing?”
Some things cannot be ignored, he said. “We just cannot push aside the fact that we have a major situation happening in our country. We’ve got major protests going on in almost every metropolitan city in the United States.”
Many of the Army National Guard’s 15,000 military police were involved in keeping the peace during protests across the nation this month, he said. “They were there to protect citizens and safeguard their Constitutional rights to peacefully assemble and exercise free speech,” he explained.
When asked were there some anxiety in the minds of the National Guardsmen, Vereen said that “some of the National Guard Soldiers were called to respond to demonstrations in their own neighborhoods.” Potentially facing friends and neighbors can involve a special kind of anxiety and uneasiness, he explained, adding it requires a special kind of “resiliency, restraint and professionalism.”
Vereen was asked about what training military police receive that helps them in their many missions. “MPs get special training in cultural awareness, the proper use of force, and how to de-escalate a situation,” he said.
“There are a lot of things you can do before there is a decision to employ or use lethal force,” he said. “We train our MPs to exercise these measured levels of response based on the circumstances they find themselves.”
With regard to the nationwide discussion of police reform, Vereen said “If we are going to look at ways to implement police reform, it starts at the highest level -- the federal level.” He further went on to say that reform “must be a two-pronged approach and executed at the local level by the local sheriffs and community chiefs of police.”
“You must work to redesign the police force,” he said. “You have to start with vetting, and it must be done thoroughly. Everybody should not be carrying a badge and carrying a weapon.”
Next, in order to implement community policing, trust needs to be built within the community, he said. Partnerships need to be formed with key influencers in the community. When done effectively, communities will begin to police themselves and share information freely to those police in their community, he added.
On military installations, the situation is a little different, he said. About 90% of people that MPs interact with are tied to the Army, he said. They are family members or Soldiers.
“We go in with the understanding these are people we know; we have a relationship with them,” he said. “There is an expectation … that we are going to treat them with dignity and respect.”
Vereen said he grew up around Army installations. His father was a Special Forces NCO.
“I grew up in a military family, so I was always around other cultures,” he said. “That kind of made me who I am.”
Yet, he said not a day goes by that he does not feel that he needs to prove himself, and strive to be the very best, because of his heritage and because that is what the profession demands.
When asked about his feelings on whether true change will happen in America with regard to racism, Vereen said “The young generation is demanding change.” It’s not just African-Americans like in the 1960s during the civil rights marches, where an overwhelming majority of participants were blacks, he said, but stressed this civil rights movement involves all ethnic groups.
“With regard to change, they are not going to settle for regulations and policy that are just written on paper,” he said of the youth today, adding they want to see action and visible change.
“We can’t just talk about it,” he said, “we really have to be about it.”