Being a police officer is a tough job, few people will disagree. Even those who outwardly say they “hate” police, protest police, or honestly think police have evil intentions, have to see that the job is difficult. That’s if they’re being honest with themselves of course. Just minutes before writing this article, I saw a story about people protesting at a scene in Chicago, where an ATF agent was shot in the face conducting an undercover operation. There were people standing outside the barricades and crime scene tape shouting various chants and holding a sign that read, “Stop the harassment.” Many issues and perspectives are in play regarding this incident.
First, we have a Federal ATF Agent shot in the face by a person later confirmed to be a gang member that has had a strong hold on that neighborhood for over 50 years. This was the fourth law enforcement officer shot in that neighborhood in a year. Second, we have a community who feels wronged by the strong police presence that resulted in the aftermath of the shooting. Residents told local news reporters that they don’t think it’s fair that when an officer is shot, there is an overwhelming response, but when a citizen is shot, the response is much different.
I think most can agree that both incidents are tragic and deserve thorough and efficient responses. I also don’t believe that the Chicago Police Department “doesn’t care” when a citizen is shot or killed. This wasn’t said outright, but was implied in the statements some citizens gave to the news. When an officer goes down, you can be assured that every officer available will respond to help in dealing with the aftermath of that incident. Much like when a citizen is shot, every available officer will respond. The major differences are driven by protocol and policies that dictate how incidents involving police officers acting in the course of their duties are investigated. One important factor was overlooked and probably unknown to the citizens, a Chicago PD officer returned fire at the suspect in response to the ATF agent being shot. Once this happens, it elicits a full on response not just for the injured officer, but entire teams of investigators tasked with solely investigating the use of force by the Chicago PD officer. This is part of the push for transparency that communities nationwide called for and is part of why there is such a large police response to these incidents.
What is unfortunate is the sentiment of the community where they feel it is truly an issue of “who is more important”. I wonder what their response would be when it was explained to them that a large response was necessary to investigate all aspects of the incident. I won’t sit here and deny that there is a massive response when an officer is shot or killed. However, juxtaposing that to the response when a citizen is shot and killed doesn’t seem fair. Laws in most states have made the shooting or killing of a police officer or first responder an aggravated offense, in some states punishable by the death penalty. In Texas for example, it is a Capital offense which immediately brings the death penalty into play. With this being the case, the way these incidents are handled are much more manpower and labor intensive, there is just no way around it.
The fact that the citizens of this neighborhood were also holding signs saying “Stop the harassment” shows the deep divide between perception and reality when it comes to the police and that neighborhood. The anti-police narrative is largely fueled by perception. The perception that police swarming a neighborhood looking for someone who shot a federal agent in the head was viewed as “harassment” goes to show that the message from the community members is conflicting. In one instance, they are saying, “You don’t do enough when a citizen is shot and killed!” And then turn around in the same breath and say, “Stop the harassment!” So which is it? They want police to come in fast and heavy every time there is a shooting in their neighborhood? If they do that, will you accuse them of harassment? I guess it is safe to say the message from some in the community can be contradicting and confusing. It’s also important to note that one of the news articles stated that 82 people were shot in Chicago that week. I guess the members of that community want peace and safety, but only if it means that they are not “harassed” in the process. This seems like an impossible demand to meet, like I said, being a police officer in 2018 is difficult. The demands and expectations of police to solve violent crimes and police violent neighborhoods, without disrupting the normal everyday life of the citizens is impossible. There will be barricades, crime scene tape, and people questioned. It’s the unfortunate part of violence in the streets of America. In doing so, the police are subjected to taunting, protests, and insults, all while merely trying to rid the streets of violent gun toting gang members.
This sadly reminds me of comments I’ve heard about what some officers experienced in Dallas, Texas on July 7th, 2016. On that day, five officers – four from Dallas PD and one from DART PD – were gunned down during a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Dallas. One officer said that while running for cover and diving behind cars as bullets flew indiscriminately, he was yelling at people to “get down” so they didn’t get shot. He said their response was “They’re shooting at you pig, not me!” Wow. That’s a soul crushing thing to hear. Police officer or not, that hurts the soul to hear those words spoken. It makes you sad to think that someone has that much hate in their heart toward someone solely because of their profession or the uniform they wear. One would think that doing the right thing and trying to help each other would be the foremost priority with bullets flying down the street. It’s important to note, civilians were shot in this incident too, not just police officers. Proving the often stated saying I heard in my years of working in dangerous Dallas neighborhoods to be true, “Bullets know no name.”
When the unthinkable happened and the bullets began to fly, the police officers didn’t pick and choose who they tried to save. They didn’t pick or choose who they laid on top of to shield from possible death or injury. Countless police officers dove behind cover and helped anyone they possibly could in hopes that they would all make it out alive. Officers closest to the gunfire ran toward it and confronted the evil face to face. For one officer, this cost him his life. Officer Brent Thompson of the DART Police Department, died as he confronted the shooter face to face. He didn’t care about who was protesting, or the fact the protest was essentially against police, he ran toward the danger in hopes of ending the threat and saving lives. Period. Without hesitation, he rounded a corner of a building and tragically ran right into the shooter. It cost him everything. A true hero if you ask me. His actions highlight what police officers are really all about, but many fail to see this aspect of police officers. Most of society knows police officers die and the job is dangerous, but many citizens don’t instinctively run toward gunfire, police officers do.
Truth be told, there were many heroes that night, police and civilian, of all colors, shapes, and sizes. I knew some of them personally and had the pleasure to work alongside many of those who engaged the shooter and brought the worst night in law enforcement since 9/11 to a conclusion. But in the middle of it all, there was still hatred to a level that is disturbing and unimaginable to most. “They’re shooting at YOU PIG, not me.” Can you imagine? Put yourself in that officer’s boots for a minute, what do you do then? All they wanted to do was help anyone, help everyone.
So how do we change the mind or the perception of the person who uttered those hateful words in the middle of a horrific attack? Why do some people feel this way? Why do some citizens have so much anger toward the very people – who without hesitation or bias – sprang into action in attempt to save the very people who were marching in protest of them, the police?
The answer isn’t a simple one. I’m not even certain there is a “solution”, definitely not just one solution. This issue, like many things I will discuss on this page are multi-layered. To start, we need to remember that humans are flawed, in many ways and yes, this includes police officers. When you deal with groups of people or society in general, you will have extremists or outliers. For example, ignorant people who belong to hate groups, terrorist groups, or any form of extremism. They exist, sadly. Thankfully they are a very small minority of the population, but they exist nonetheless. I’d like to think the person who said that chilling phrase is part of a very small minority in society. Some people will hate police no matter what, so accepting that notion, what about those who are on the fence? Or maybe those going along with the narrative that police are evil or racist because they haven’t stopped to look at things from another perspective?
Hopefully, with the advent and implementation of body cameras will slowly help the citizens see the truth. The truth, that no matter who you are, what you look like, or whether you like police or not, when the gunfire starts, the police will act, without hesitation and without regard for their own safety. I can’t think of another incident or set of circumstances that could illustrate the true colors and mindsets of the police officer than what took place that night in Dallas, Texas. True acts of heroism, love, compassion, and honor were shown that night, highlighting what is really inside the heart of our good and noble police officers.
Having said that, I would be remiss to ignore the fact there have been instances and circumstances involving police that show the complete opposite of what we saw on July 7th, 2016 in Dallas. What do I mean? The name Rodney King says it all. The fact that horrific and horrible things have taken place involving police cannot be denied or overlooked. It lends truth and validity to the feelings of mistrust and even hate toward police officers. The one saving grace is the fact that these incidents are extremely rare and not the example of what police officers are all about. I am not suggesting that the police have suddenly raised the bar to a level of perfection and nothing bad happens anymore. That would be a lie. Bad things still happen today, on and off camera. Why do these bad things still happen on camera (body worn) or not? Honestly, I think because police are human. Police aren’t without imperfections, bias, or flaws. They’re a human being doing a job with the expectation of society to be perfect. It’s impossible. Good officers will make poor decisions and completely embarrass themselves, their department, and their profession. This makes it all that much harder on the “good police officers” and has a lasting ripple effect on the perceptions of law enforcement as a whole.
I know as soon as some people read this they will be saying to themselves, “Police are still held to a higher standard!!!!” Absolutely they are, that should not and will not change. I’m simply pointing out the fact that bad things can and will continue to happen when you have humans trying to police a violent and unpredictable society. I do believe and hope that body cameras will continue to show that as a whole, police officers are out there doing the right thing, working hard, to keep America safe. There have already been countless instances where police were accused of horrible misconduct and the body camera completely vindicated the officer, once the footage was released. More on that another day.
I think it is safe to say, there is a lot of discussion to be had about the varying facets of society and policing in America today. No one incident is ever identical, no incident “routine” when it comes to police work. The perceptions of the citizens in our communities are affected each and every time an incident takes place involving police, good and bad. Police officers know that and are working hard to improve perceptions, I can assure you. They want to be respected, trusted, and valued, like every human being.
On the two year anniversary of July 7, 2016, I hope that people can read this article and examine how we perceive things that happen in society today. I hope we can honor those who gave their lives, doing nothing more than blocking a street, allowing people to exercise their right to march for a cause they deemed worthy. I hope we can remember the “Dallas 5” and recognize that evil is out there and when it rears its ugly face, police officers will run toward it and attempt to shield the innocent from it. Without hesitation or bias, they will give their life to save yours.
So what now? That seems to be the age old question. I will continue to write about this topic and many others in hopes of opening up dialogue and discussion that can be productive in helping people of all backgrounds gain understanding. I hope to say things that police officers want to say, but can’t out of fear of punishment from their employers. I also hope to be fair and not only discuss or see things from one side. I have a true passion and respect for policing and know the sacrifices the men and women in uniform make to keep our country safe day in and day out. Stay tuned, there’s more to come. I hope you enjoyed reading this, thank a first responder today.
Take care and be safe.
-The Officer Next Door