The controversy surrounding police treatment of blacks in the U.S. has taken a very disturbing turn. In the wake of the cold-blooded, apparently pre-meditated murder of two NYPD Officers, there has arisen a chorus of blaming politicians, activists and participants who have been protesting the various police killings over the past several months.
The head of the NYPD police union has gone so far as to say that the Mayor has “blood on his hands” because he, and others, have created a climate of mistrust and antipathy towards police. Even more vicious comments are coming in from the fringe, such a Actor James Woods, who states that the whole protest movement, aided by Pres. Obama, Al Sharpton etc, somehow had the objective of killing police.
Of course the murders were tragic, in one sense another manifestation of the culture of gun violence in the U.S. Of course the police are the line that protects citizens from crime and they must be supported in that function.
It is that very role, however, that requires police to be held to a high standard when they make decisions on how to apply legally authorized force on people. At the end of the day, they are entrusted by the state to kill people where necessary.
Not only must the justification for force be closely and carefully regulated, but the competence and attitudes of those using the force have to be monitored by the public. Absent such care and transparency public trust in law enforcement, and cooperation with it, can be compromised.
This goes to the vital relationship between the police and the community that various spokespersons have been citing lately.
Certainly the rhetoric of those who protest police abuse has to be tempered – not only because excesses can promote undue attitudes toward peace officers, but even more so because hyperbole can cloud issues that must be identified and resolved.
That said, we cannot permit protest to be stifled because of purported encouragement of people to attack police officers.
First, there is precious little evidence that such an cause/effect exists in any significant way, or that the recent murders would not have happened in any case.
Second, even if recent events have had some impact on the police officer killings, it must be asked, in fairness, whether the motivation, in the disturbed mind of the killer, was the protests or the events that gave rise to the protests.
Third, the police are subject to the rule of law, and, more importantly, have to be perceived as such. Without effective, transparent, public oversight the perception can be that police may act arbitrarily and that they are accountable only to themselves. Even worse, without reasonable public control of police conduct, the cooperation of the community, and the protection that police are supposed to provide, is put into doubt.