The unfathomable has now become a harsh new reality for law enforcement in America. On Thursday, July 7, our nation suffered a severe body punch when we lost five brave Dallas officers to a violent, wholesale shooting by a lone gunman. The killings were driven by an onslaught of ugly stories that engendered hatred in an unstable person with a terribly misguided agenda. Six other officers were also targeted for assassination that night and survived their wounds. Ten days after that brutal attack, the nightmare continued as three more officers were taken from us in yet another rage-filled act in Baton Rouge. PORAC mourns the murders of the Texas and Louisiana police officers who were targeted for no other reason than that they wore a uniform distinguishing them as front-line community protection. These shootings served no purpose except to increase fear and create chaos in our country.
The mornings of the attacks were like any other shift for Dallas officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa and Michael Krol, and Baton Rouge officers Montrell Jackson, Matthew Gerald and Brad Garofola. Like most Americans, they left their homes and families to go to work. They were individuals who believed in service, and by their actions subscribed to a better world. The difference was that their chosen career required them to confront the dangers that others can run away from, and to put their lives on the line to protect the safety of all citizens.
Being a peace officer has always been the toughest job in our society, and the task has grown increasingly difficult as a war on cops makes the challenge of law enforcement a high-risk endeavor. This year we have seen an ever-increasing risk to law enforcement officers, and we are saddened by the current state of our country. The killing of eight police officers and the wounding of many others is the most tragic manifestation of what law enforcement confronts now on a daily basis. Every stop has the potential of being met with intransigence and suspicion. The cameras are out immediately, and crowds that thrive on tumult and confusion instead of law and order rebuke the officers in the course and scope of their duties. It is a good year for the bad guys, as being anti-cop finds a political base. And who suffers? The most vulnerable communities become war zones as the criminals take free range. We witness our nation being torn apart because of ethnicity or geography, rather than coming together to find a solution. Because of this division, families have been shattered, children are left without a parent and we have lost eight men who were outstanding examples of civility, commitment and courage. We pray for those brave officers who gave all and offer our complete support to their loved ones and colleagues.
We are not blind to the mistakes that have been made by law enforcement. We support body cameras and a judicious process that brings clarity to interactions between officers and those we serve. PORAC was the first to work with an activist attorney general on keeping statewide records and encouraging community policy, better training and neighborhood outreach. We want safe streets.
A divide is being drawn. Households across America are repeatedly exposed to stories of Ferguson and New York and the videos of the shootings in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minnesota. The conflict is impossible to avoid. The new reality is that all police actions are being held to detailed scrutiny by both the judicial system and the public. Internet posts spread like wildfire in a matter of minutes. Opinions are hastily formed, and people begin reacting without understanding the full story, or in some instances not having an honest perspective. Cameras are limited by their lenses, and news stories are edited for time or editorial reasoning.
According to a survey by Pew Research Center, in 2016, 62% of Americans use social media as their news source. Unfortunately, many online sources are misleading, unreliable and politically biased, yet many people are influenced by these platforms of public opinion rather than factual evidence. The consequence is mistrust and the encouragement of violence.
There is no argument as to what happened in Dallas and Baton Rouge. No one is questioning the innocence of the officers. No one is wondering if they were doing their job with honor and integrity. Only the vilest are lionizing the shooters. The actions of the fallen officers embodied exactly what they were sworn to do — disregarding their safety to protect others. Their deaths were just as likely due to the color of their uniforms as the color of their skin. The target is the uniform, and the consequences go to the very core of who we are as Americans. Our job makes genuine heroes of men and women who would prefer not to get the attention. Unlike much of the rhetoric and propaganda on social media, we need to remember that the majority of police officers have a true passion for public service, safe neighborhoods, orderly stops, secure gathering places and a sense that our future is going to be the realization of a peaceful community no matter where we live.
How do we make sense of the situation? Everyone — policymakers, law enforcement and private citizens alike — acknowledges the level of escalating violence in our communities and must seek a solution. We must consider as a society how we are going to resolve a conundrum where the peace officer is targeted for enforcing our laws. If the breakdown includes the officer becoming immediately suspect with each stop and listening to an order is discretionary, we will have anarchy. The division in our country is more than a terrible grief; it is a national crisis.
At the Dallas memorial service, it was said that “too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.”
It is our responsibility to rebuild. As officers, we begin by voicing our commitment to the safety of those we serve. Now is the time to be visible in our communities, to rebuild the relationships that are critical not only in the good times, but also in those instances when we must support one another through difficulties. However, we must also remember that those who make political fodder out of law enforcement are shameful. We build trust by delineating expectations and having accountability for all involved.
The code of a peace officer is to ensure safety and protect the freedoms and constitutional rights of all citizens. The tension in our cities needs to be addressed in a reasonable fashion, free from staked-out viewpoints and public posturing. Americans must come together, respect each other, care for each other, honor the laws that protect our freedoms and join the conversation. We must be active agents of change and work to strengthen the bond of trust between police and community. Someone said, “We are not as divided as we seem.” Let us speak and act with tolerance, empathy and understanding as we pick up the broken pieces and unify our nation once again.
We can get through this. However, until we do, the men and women willing to wear a badge need to be especially vigilant. A lot of people talk about their commitment and responsibility to others. Law enforcement proves their position every time they put on a uniform and accept what awaits them.
Lorne Bradley Ahrens
Dallas Police Department
EOW: Thursday, July 7, 2016