Among America’s massive workforce are some 900,000 citizens who head out the door every day knowing they could wind up dead. Can you imagine having a job like that?
These 900,000 are state and local law enforcement officers, the front line we Americans have to keep us safe. Fewer than 1 million people tasked with keeping the remaining 323 million of us out of harm’s way.
In this day and age, when anyone wearing a uniform and a badge is in the potential line of fire, these brave folks continue to show up for work knowing they may not make it home. Their loved ones know it too. Those bent on only focusing on the relatively few questionable police–on–civilian shootings may dismiss that as a trite sentiment but I dare them to put themselves in a police officer’s place.
In an era when it seems there’s never enough cops around imagine what it would be like without them. Imagine what it would be like to be one of them.
They are the men and women who fearlessly run toward gunfire. They are the ones who respond to potentially deadly domestic disputes, eruptions of gang violence or reports of horrifying crimes against children. In the aftermath of grisly traffic accidents, it is the law enforcement officer who races to the scene to see if they can help save a life. A jumper on a bridge, a citizen caught up in a violent psychotic moment, a frantic call to 911 about an unknown situation — all in a day’s work. Responding to a call about a simple bar fight could result in serious injury or death. Imagine seeing all that on your job and then going home and acting as if life is really normal.
Imagine being an officer protecting the perimeter around a group protesting police brutality. The protesters, of course, have every right to express their opinion. And, of course, it is the officer’s job to make sure they remain safe while they do that. But then, imagine what it is like when protesters begin an in-your-face chant about killing cops. As protesters in Minnesota chanted last summer, “Pigs in a blanket! Fry ‘em like bacon!” a reference to police in body bags after they were “fried” by gunshots.
Those who wear the badge, be they White, Black, Asian or Hispanic must feel like they are trapped in a Kafkaesque moment at these constitutionally protected demonstrations. Officers are assigned to provide protection yet they must also fight their gut instinct to protect themselves. How are they able to put aside their momentary fear of a crowd that could turn on them in an instant and remain stone faced and ever vigilant?
At this writing, 31 officers have died from gunshot wounds so far this year, compared with 18 at the same time last year. That’s a 72% increase. Eight of those deaths happened just this month in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
According to several published reports many members of law enforcement say they aren’t just threatened in the street, they have also been threatened on social media. As Dallas police chief David Brown put it, “We are all on edge… And we’re being very careful.”
Can you blame them? Police forces across the nation are raw with emotion and the primal urge to keep themselves and their fellow officers safe. This is now the mindset of the warriors who we depend upon to keep us away from danger. Is this really what we want in America?
Absolutely no one in their right mind condones the spate of seemingly senseless police shootings of civilians we’ve seen. If investigators find officers at fault they must be prosecuted. But can we honestly say that the reaction to those civilian deaths has not influenced vindictive minds to pick up arms against our protectors?
Imagine, with the randomness of the ambush-style shootings of officers we see today, how they feel as they head out on their daily patrols.
Solutions to the problem of violence in America are way more complex than the repetitive calls for more gun control laws. We clearly have long simmering racial, class and societal demons to confront. As Sheriff Sid Gautreaux III of East Baton Rouge Parish said, “To me, this is not so much about gun control as it is about what is in men’s hearts.”
Government can pass no law to guarantee civility or to erase the rage and anxiety felt across the country. It’s up to us, people of good heart, to look each other in the eye, truly listen to each other’s concerns and decide together that we have had enough.