Letter to the Editor: Don't be too quick to judge police in Ferguson
To law enforcement officials including first responders, security, and community leaders:
Thank you, for your service.
I speak to you today as an American, who is African American, who has worked in the juvenile justice system as a specialist in gangs, youth violence, hate groups and substance abuse.
I grew up in Washington, D.C., experienced violence and rioting, have been profiled, and have on occasion been stopped by the police. I know what police brutality is and am fully aware of how race, enforcement and crime impact minority and poor communities. I’m also familiar with the disproportionate arrest rates of black vs. white youths. With vivid memories of Southern white police officers clashing with civil rights leaders, distrust in many segments of America still runs deep. Today we see images of protest and unrest in other countries. In some cases, governments do go to extremes to suppress the conflicts.
Like any other person, I don’t like it when I see the flashing lights in my rearview. I must admit there is an element of fear there. And with every single interaction that I have had, I have always followed the officer’s directives regardless of the manner in which I’m approached. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we all did a better job with following directives from authority?
Is racism alive and well in our society? Yes! But that doesn’t give us permission to always fall back on it when an incident or crisis happens.
In light of the tragic events in Ferguson, Mo., it has become evident that many in the media along with a host of commentators and some elected officials have been, in part, very critical of law enforcement’s handling of the incidents there. While there is nothing wrong with assessing responses, tactics and engagements, Monday morning quarterbacking needs to stop.
News reports and social media were filled with discussions regarding the militarization of the police and the lack of diversity regarding the ratio of black vs. white officers in Ferguson. Are the media suggesting that the ethnicity of the officers must match the communities to which they serve? Or are they saying that the absence of more black officers means that discrimination has been occurring and needs to be looked into?
When active shootings or bomb threats occur at schools, malls or businesses, and riots occur at college events, law enforcement has to make critical decisions within seconds. Law enforcement often has to go into places without having the luxury of hindsight, and with knowing that there is always a possibility that they might not make it out alive.
We live now in a culture where TV shows, along with YouTube video clips on the Internet, too often show folks attacking, disrespecting and not following directives of officers. Whether it’s a vehicle stop or a visit to a scene, a routine stop can escalate within seconds. Officers put their lives on the line every day. We as a society know that, but I believe we sometimes just take it all for granted. Yes, we will stand at attention for marches and funerals. But when it the rubber hits the road, we have to admit we take their actions for granted and often second guess their actions. This leads to early judgment and public convictions.
News flash: Police officers are not perfect. Police departments are not perfect either, and societies filled with humans who do bad things are not perfect. Regardless of what divides us, let’s get together, man up and deal with it!
Here in Indiana County, we are fortunate to have the annual police officers memorial. This event acknowledges the sacrifices of police officers and first responders killed in the line of duty. The Indiana County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies have supported this event over the years. Judging by the size of the audiences at the events, one might conclude we don’t make time to show our support.
Of course, there are bad apples in law enforcement. And do we make sweeping judgments of police officers when a few do wrong? Creating fear that every white cop who stops a black youth is doing so with a hidden racial agenda is self-serving. This not only creates distrust in authority, but when it comes down to following police directives — orders such as “Stop,” “Put your hands up,” “Freeze,” “License and Registration,” “Move back behind the line,” “Take your hands out of your pockets slowly,” etc. — are seen as requests and at times ignored. Why should an officer have to give a directive two or three times?
Law enforcement is what it is: Law enforcement! Regardless of how angry, frustrated or wronged, we must expect nothing less from our neighbors, friends and colleagues when a crisis happens. We as a civil society have responsibilities that reach far beyond the physical locations of our home and businesses. Yes, we have to, when the chips are down, abide by the laws and support law enforcement.
To the families of law enforcement, who have lost sons and daughters in the line of duty, may you and yours continue to find peace with knowing that your sacrifices will never be forgotten.
To all who serve — trust in your oath and make no apologies. Someone has to make the call. Someone has to stand guard, and someone has to draw the line between danger and safety.
Finally, in regard to videotaping officers: It can be helpful with giving background and showing part of the story, but it rarely tells the whole story. Would you want to have every word or action recorded and scrutinized each day at work? Let’s be reasonable in our expectations of law enforcement and first responders. Let us be mindful that they too have families, friends and associates who love and cherish them. Let us, at the end of the day, be grateful and thankful and, if so willing, say a special prayer to keep evil, chaos, destruction and harm away.
Thank you for your service, and thank you for being there.