Defending those who defend you

So now we have activists urging students in both high school and college to do a Hands Up, Walk Out routine and bail out of school. Remember that we’re not talking about Ferguson here… this was taking place in New York City and other urban locations around the country. And what was the purpose of this organized mass truancy? To inform the police in their neighborhood that racism is tyranny and that they weren’t going to take it anymore.

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Apparently lost on the activists organizing such events is the fact that children not being in school, not finishing their education, not challenging themselves to go on to productive, successful careers, is precisely what leads to situations where growing numbers of citizens wind up in conflict with law enforcement. They also seem to forget that the nation’s first responders are the only ones who stand between their ability to go to school, find a job and make it to their place of employment alive and being cut down in the streets. I found a brief bit of respite from this madness by reading In Defense of Cops, by Peter Wehner.

It is quite an odd thing when a police officer acts in a perfectly defensible way, to the point that a grand jury refuses to indict him based on the available evidence, and that this incident triggers an intense national debate in which the assumption is that the blame–either in Ferguson specifically or in America more generally–rests with the cops.

I dissent.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t police officers who are racists and doing bad things; but there are racists in every profession. And here’s what needs to be said but is hardly ever said: Cops are not only by and large impressive and admirable people who do very difficult jobs with skill and professionalism; they are among the best friends that communities, most especially inner city communities, have. That’s what former NBA great Charles Barkley was getting at in this interview.

I’m not unsympathetic to the challenges facing those who are black in America; I wrote about it recently. What bothers me in the discussion surrounding the events in Ferguson is that (a) many people are simply and willfully divorcing themselves from facts and reality, twisting events to make a political point; and (b) cops–including Darren Wilson but also virtually every cop on the beat–are being unfairly tarnished in the process. Somehow it’s their reputations that are being undone. That’s wrong, and someone should say it’s wrong.

I would argue with Wehner in only one regard here. Yes, it is true that you will find the occasional rogue cop who is a racist, a crook, or the type to abuse their power for their own benefit. But we do a disservice to say that you find bad apples in every profession and simply leave it at that. I would venture to say that while there are indeed some bad apples among the police, there are probably even less of them than you find in nearly any other profession.

The people who feel and answer the call to serve in law enforcement don’t have many temptations facing them which might serve as ulterior motives. The pay for police isn’t exactly what one would describe as a path to riches. Job security isn’t even as strong of an argument these days as cities and towns struggle with shrinking budgets and hard choices in cutting back on critical services. Working as a cop isn’t going to serve as a springboard to elected office or Hollywood stardom for many. And for a tragically high number of them, the final thanks they get for their service will come in the form of a bullet or an ax from some maniac.

Not that many of us are moved to answer this particular calling, and the rewards awaiting those who do are often meager. They do it because they feel compelled to protect and serve the rest of us. They are not lining up for an opportunity to shoot black people or anyone else. While the few problematic officers who are identified – a group which does not include Darren Wilson – need to be removed from the force and held accountable, too many of these protesters seem ready to paint the entire profession with an ugly brush. The ingratitude on display is insulting to the nation’s first responders and should be offensive to all Americans.