It is difficult to be a policeman/policewoman in the best of times. The job requires a fair level of intelligence, education, physical stamina, self-discipline, courage, and inter-personal skills. The pay and social standing are moderate middle class. Military veterans can empathize. In the worst of times the police are the pawns of the political class - and these are the worst of times.
When the times are tough, there are two ways to view the police:
- Black Lives Matter, and to a lesser extent, Barack Obama (dating at least to the beginning of his presidency) view the police as an occupying force. In addressing the recent Baton Rouge and St. Paul shootings Obama said "These are not isolated incidents. They're symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system," and that there "are problems across our criminal justice system; there are biases - some conscious and some unconscious - that have to be rooted out." At the White House convocation after the killing of five policemen inspired by the Black Lives Matter activists, Obama stressed the bad news that progress is hard, and participant Al Sharpton chirped about the cops learning about "our pain of having to tell our children to be careful of policemen" as if cops were from another planet.
- Police leaders and the rank and file would prefer to view themselves as servants of the community. Some fall short, but the vast majority take the responsibility seriously, follow proper procedures, and take pride in the sacrifices they make in protecting society from its worst elements. This is not the message from Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton who immediately called for a federal investigation of the Saint Paul Police Department; it is the message of Dallas Police Chief David Brown who announced to his protesters that he was hiring if they really wanted to help the community.
While there are legitimate examples of criminal behavior by the police, the advocates for accountability and reform have done a disservice to the police and people of good will. The Black Lives Matter leaders do not distinguish between the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri incident where a 6' 3'', 250 pound teenager who had just robbed a convenience store and tried to take a police officer's gun was shot as he charged the officer, and the 2015 Baltimore, Maryland incident where a handcuffed and defenseless 25 year-old arrested for possessing a knife died of injuries while in a police van, or the 2014 New York incident where a 35 year-old asthmatic was killed in a choke hold during a low-level rousting. The claim of "white racism" was belied by the participation of African-American cops in the latter two incidents.
Sometimes data helps defuse emotional confrontations:
- 95% of black shooting deaths do not involve the police, and violent crimes are 7 to 10 times higher among blacks than among whites. It is not racial profiling to put the resources where the greatest problems are.
- In 2015, 41 officers were killed on duty and 45 died in work-related accidents.
- In recent decades violent crime is actually down, racial relations have actually improved, and a disproportionate amount of the police confrontations occur with Blacks because a dis-proportionate amount of violent crime is committed by Blacks;
- Those who would be open to academic research might read "The War on Cops" by Heather McDonald who cites studies at Washington State and Harvard University which debunk the narrative of racial bias in the use of force by police. She does, however, tie the recent increase in violent crime in many major cities to a natural reduction in aggressive policing due to fear of physical or political attack.
This is not a new subject. Best practices are known. Most urban police forces around the country have substantial training for beat officers and employ a significant number of minority officers and leaders. The Justice Department is available to assist when local investigation would lack credibility. There is value in discussing the use of tasers and body cameras, and the role of civilian oversight, but the rate of progress will not be accelerated by a higher decibel level or by extending the conversation to include gun control or the general plight of the African-American community.
This is a legitimate subject being hijacked by both sides of our great political divide. With 90% of African Americans voting Democratic, the Hillary Clinton forces need to prevent a big drop-off in turnout with Barack Obama no longer on the ballot and the Democratic Party advocating for millions of illegal immigrants who compete for low-end jobs; with the inclusion of chants calling for the killing of police among the Black Lives Matter demonstrations there will be a huge opening for Donald Trump as the "law and order" candidate; it makes a marvelous story for the media - left or right.
It would be nice if the media and political leaders focused primarily on supporting those like the African-American police chief of Dallas who is devoting his life to "walking the talk" on the front line.
This week's bonus video is an interview with the United Kingdom's new top diplomat, Boris Johnson. (?)
bill bowen - 7/15/16