With every dead body, accusations fly. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are the most recent names. Before them, we heard about Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and Tamir Rice. The outcry deafens, as it should, because this list of the dead is tragic. But the outcry also contains accusations of police racism, and that I reject out of hand.
Let me be direct: I don’t believe that this nation’s 765,000 sworn police officers are, as a group, racist. I don’t accept the theory that cops around our country are hunting down and killing black men for sport, or driven by some pathological, Klan-like mindset.
I will explain the underpinnings of this belief in a moment, but first let me be fully transparent: Professionally, I work as a public relations and political consultant, including for the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police. I consider the organization’s members more than clients – they are my friends, my heroes and very much like family.
How can I defend police officers after this horrific string of shootings? By submitting a comparison: Thus far in 2016, in five different incidents in different cities on different dates, black men have shot dead white police officers.
There was February 27th in Virginia, when 32-year-old Ronald Hamilton gunned down Officer Ashley Guindon in her first day working for the Prince William County police.
Next was March 18th in Greenville, South Carolina, where 17-year-old gang member Deontea Perry Mackey shot dead father of two and decorated military veteran Officer Allen Lee Jacobs.
Two weeks later in Richmond, James Brown II shot and killed 37-year-old Virginia State Trooper Chad Phillip Dermyer. Then on June 22nd, Jefferson Parish Louisiana Detective David Michel Jr. died at the hands of 19-year-old Jerman Neveaux. Neveaux shot Michel in the back during a patdown, then put two more bullets in the detective at point blank range.
Finally came Dallas July 7th, Micah Johnson hunting officers with a semiautomatic rifle and handgun. Johnson left five cops dead and nine wounded. That brought the body count officers killed to 10 in not even five months’ time.
The point of such a comparison? It would be absurd to point to these murders and accuse all black Americans of racism against white officers. That accusation would be dismissed –rightfully – as damning the many for the actions of a few, mistaking the sickness of some for a defect present in one and all.
And yet isn’t that exactly what’s being done to hundreds of thousands of sworn police officers – men and women who risk their lives to defend us while facing microscopic scrutiny, with every move second- and third-guessed on cable TV and out in the street, amid protests that often appear as misdirected as they are teeming with passion?
Are there racists cops in America? Sadly, yes. This sick few should be rooted out and fired. I believe unjust police shootings should be prosecuted. I believe we need to have a sustained, difficult conversation about how best to engage suspects of all races. And I believe that nuanced, sober conversation should include consideration of why so many Americans so detest law enforcement.
Often, we hear it said it – correctly – only black Americans understand what it means to be black in America. A corollary truth: We also have no idea what it means to be a police officer on the job, living through a split second that can end careers and lives.
If only we thought to trade loud accusations for careful analysis. If only we thought to look within, to ourselves and our neighbors, before damning those who wear the badge.