From Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to Eric Garner, there has been a wave of discontent regarding American law and justice. Critics claim that police and the courts care little for black [and other minority] lives, allowing white police officers and white citizens to kill non-white citizens with relative impunity. Thousands of people, of all races, have protested alleged police brutality and judicial inaction. Politicians like New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made controversial statements insinuating that many police officers, and police departments, engaged in racial profiling and excessive use of force.
Then, an assassin shot and killed two NYPD officers in their cruiser before fleeing and turning the gun on himself.
Now the NYPD is fighting back in the war of rhetoric. Symbolically, NYPD officers turned their backs on mayor de Blasio when he spoke at the funeral of officer Rafael Ramos. Today, some officers did so again during the mayor’s speech at the funeral of officer Wenjian Liu, reports the AFP. Police unions have created a form where officers can request that mayor de Blasio, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, not attend their funeral in event of their death in the line of duty. Cops have protested an increase in alleged anti-police policies that supposedly hinder their ability to defend themselves, police their precincts, and maintain authority and respect.
Understandably, many police officers feel that the politicians are selling them out to capitalize on a wave of anti-authoritarianism among the general public. The pubic is angry at cops, so policymakers are criticizing cops to soak up votes. Cops feel that the dangers they face are poorly understood and often unappreciated by both civilians and politicians.
I sympathize, and empathize, with the plight of today’s police officers. They are under constant scrutiny while doing a difficult job. They provoke our dislike for doing the necessary job of sanctioning us. Obviously, we have the utmost ire for those who must sanction us. We demand an appeal, an investigation! How dare they!
As a high school teacher, I understand the scrutiny. When you sanction one of your charges, they often claim that such sanctioning is unwarranted. They accuse you of unfairness. They demand an investigation. They criticize you loudly to all who will listen.
Police officers, I understand. But you must not turn your backs. Though it is tempting to turn your back on a mayor who has insinuated that you are brutal racists, and may be trying to score cheap political points, you must use the power of your voice instead. Turning one’s back on the mayor may be mistaken as turning one’s back on the entire citizenry. Critics will use this gesture against you.
You must show the people that you are not turning their back on them. You must step forward, not turn your back. You must use your words to explain, not to condemn. Do not let your critics have a monopoly on the heart-wrenching op-eds.
Many Americans, including myself, know far too little about police work. If you want our sympathy and support, tell us. Let us in. The “thin blue line” should be opened up through words and explanation. Many critics of police may be willing to listen and understand, if only given the opportunity. Remaining silent and keeping one’s back turned sends the wrong message and will only increase criticism of law enforcement.