A deputy sheriff shot in the back while off duty in Houston. A local cop gunned down during a traffic stop in a suburb outside Chicago. In total, four police officers dead across America in nine days and from the White House, nothing.
It might be too much to expect the president to have something meaningful to say about everything. For Barack Obama it is different, at least on this subject. Recall the early days of his administration when he invited a noted Harvard University professor and the police officer with whom he had tangled to Washington to talk things out over a beer. Community policing problems, he seemed to be saying, were going to be in his wheelhouse during his presidency.
We now know it to have been a false promise, uttered for who knows what purpose. No one individual has the power to change the hearts and minds of people who believe they have been abused during their interactions with law enforcement but the president, most of all, should not be doing or saying anything to exacerbate them.
That’s what his silence is, an exacerbation of a serious problem that is growing steadily worse. There are those, including some who have anointed themselves leaders in the so-called #BlackLivesMatter movement, who have openly declared war on the police. We now know the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” mantra that spawned their movement was a canard, but that doesn’t stop people from continuing to perpetuate the lie to justify their alleged grievances.
It is not too much of a reach to suggest the president has fostered this argument all the way along, going back beyond Baltimore and Ferguson perhaps even to the incident in Florida between a Hispanic man, George Zimmerman, and Trayvon Martin, a black youth who was shot dead while the two tangled in a confrontation the origins of which are still not entirely clear.
“I said last December that war had been declared on the American police officer led by some high profile people, one of them coming out of the White House, and one coming out of the United States Department of Justice,” Milwaukee County Sheriff Dave Clarke said on Fox News shortly after the latest round of attacks on police started. “It’s open season right now,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it. Anytime a law enforcement officer is killed, a little bit of every police officer in America dies along with them.”
Clarke’s right and, even though there are many who will disagree with his assertion that Obama himself had “started this war on police,” we must acknowledge that such a war has indeed begun.
Some people, when they look at the police, can only see black and white. It’s hard for them to find the nuances that exist in the way law enforcement is required to interact with citizens. For every one police officer who finds a room for the night for a homeless woman or pays the grocery bill for a person in need, there are at least an equal number who are arrogant, pushy and needlessly overbearing during routine traffic stops and other encounters. The latter is a problem that needs to be addressed, and in ways that protect the citizens who are harassed but also safeguard the rights and lives of the police.
When you think back to many of the incidents that have received national attention and inflamed those who now argue it is the police who are conducting a war on black and Hispanic America, you cannot forget the role that elected politicians have played in setting both sides up. How many speeding tickets, traffic citations and arrests for offenses like “selling loosies” – the sale of individual cigarettes that brought about the attempted arrest that caused the death of Eric Garner some months ago in New York City – occur because politicians have bloated budgets in need of balance? You cannot use a police department as a revenue collection agency with a pre-set quota of funds to be raised by fines and other citations and not expect the citizens of the community that elected you to become angry and to feel persecuted.
These are the kinds of things that cause many people to see red when it comes to the police, when really all we should be seeing is blue. The cops are not always right; even they will admit that, but #PoliceLivesMatter. If the literal assault upon them is allowed to continue, the blue line will crumble, leaving us all unprotected while society moves that much closer to anarchy. Those who patrol the streets and risk their lives to protect the rest of us and our property deserve, as a group as well as individually, the presumption of our respect. This alone would cut down on the number of incidents as many are caused by “mouthy types” who insist on arguing the point.
At the same time, it is important that police and political leaders recognize they have a problem, one that springs from the attitude of those peace officers who are unable or unwilling to reason things out calmly and instead insist on absolute obedience from the get go. That this happens may be a direct result of fear that a situation out of control is one that is potentially fatal for them. That is understandable but does not excuse their excesses.
Most of all, however, the president needs to step up and give the nation one of his famous lectures on tolerance and understanding. If the people who have actually declared war on the thin blue will listen to anyone they will listen to him. He knows this, and his failure to exercise the responsibility it places on him makes him at fault, at least partially, for whatever happens next.
Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report