The column this week was going to be another fluff piece — an essay on a topic that was non-controversial, a slice-of-life column that people could identify with and possibly even chuckle about. I usually avoid hot topics that are plastered on the front page of every newspaper; topics that are covered hour-after-hour on the various 24-hour news channels.
Not this time. This time, I have to write about the killing of police officers.
Most people know that my son is a police officer. Josh is currently the chief of detectives for the city of Wilmington. I cannot express how proud I am of the work my son does. I also have a nephew, Rob, who is a police officer in downtown Dayton. My son-in-law, Sean, worked in law enforcement for many years. Having hired and sworn-in many of our city officers, I find myself thinking of them like they are my own kids. They are good people.
In 2000, when I became the director of public safety for the city of Wilmington, I grew to respect and appreciate the work that is done by our police officers. Their job is difficult. At times, it is nearly impossible to comprehend how difficult the job can be.
One moment, they need to be a counselor or a guide for someone who is lost, scared or hurt. In the next moment, they may need to be a comforter to someone who has just lost a child, a husband or a loved one in some tragic incident. Later, they may need to slip into cop-mode and be an authoritarian to someone who has wantonly committed a crime, is threatening someone or is trying to evade the consequences of a crime.
When police officers report for duty, they have no idea what might happen over the next several hours. One day is never like the one that came before. Every day brings new challenges, new opportunities. Something humorous might happen that will make them smile, but, all too often, something might happen that will break their hearts. Ask any police officer what their goal is for their workday and the officer will almost always tell you that their primary goal is to finish their shift and safely get home to their family.
Over the years, I have found that not everyone who wants to be a cop, should be a cop.
If someone wants to become a police officer so they can go to work and bust some heads, they should find another occupation. Being a police officer will not be a good fit for them. If someone wants to be a cop so they can have power over others, they will not become a good officer. That is not what a good officer does.
Across the nation, many cities have emblazoned their police cruisers with the words, “To Protect and To Serve.” That slogan, as short and concise as it is, best describes the overall mission that every police officer and every police department should have. Being a good officer should never be about having power over others. It should always be about serving the public.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Every officer serving, in every community across the nation, can tell you stories about people who should never have become cops. It happens. It’s sad. At times it can be tragic. However, the vast, vast majority of men and women wearing a badge do so with honor and pride. We need to honor them. We need to support them.
There are, however, those tragic time when an officer might panic, overreact or exert power that doesn’t belong to them. The outcome can be fatal. We have seen it happen in various communities. It is tragic to watch video of an officer shooting someone for any reason. These incidents almost always trigger anger and hatred toward the police.
The “Black Lives Matter” movement started six years ago when George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trevon Martin. Since then, whenever a tragedy happens that involves an African-American and a police officer (of any race), there have been demonstrations, marches and picketing against the police.
Honestly, those demonstrations are fine. America was founded on our right to peacefully assemble and to disagree with one another. Our right to assemble and to protest is guaranteed by the first amendment. If something happens that we disagree with, we should voice our opinions; we should let people know how we feel, but we must do it peacefully.
We must always exercise our right to protest in a civil manner.
Yes! Black lives do matter. Absolutely! Black lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. Jewish lives matter. Muslim lives matter. LGBT lives matter. Christian lives matter. Eurasian lives matter. Police lives matter. Life is precious. Absolutely all life matters.
Police officers are on duty to enforce our laws and to serve our citizens. They have the authority of the law to do their jobs. When an officer tells you to stop … stop. When an officer tells you to keep your hands on the steering wheel … keep your hands on the wheel. When an officer tells you to do something … do it. Be polite and do not do anything until the officer tells you to.
You can disagree later. Voice your objections and concerns later, but at the time, do what you are instructed to do. Do it quickly. Do it without argument. Later, you can object. Later, you can appeal the officer’s actions. You can assemble; even organize a picket line as a form of objection, but at the time of any encounter with a police officer, do what you are told.
Civil objection is legal, but there will always be a line of protest that must never be crossed.
In Dallas, that line was crossed.
In Baton Rouge, the line was crossed.
The shooting of police officers should unleash the wrath of heaven and hell on the criminals who do the shooting. But, that wrath, the justice that is delivered, must always be delivered in accordance with all of our laws.
All criminals, even cop killers, must always be dealt with legally. Like it or not, their lives also matter.
Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.