Mirror, Mirror … ?

Jonathan Blanks has this response to the recent accusations that those protesting police misconduct are somehow responsible for the vicious murder of two NYPD officers last week:

Beyond the preening politicians, there have been those who would like to characterize criticism as a ‘war on cops.’ Admittedly, there are those people who have become so fed up with how they and their loved ones have been treated by police officers that criticism comes from a place of anger and frustration. But the police are ultimately responsible for how they treat the public and thus have considerable control over how they are perceived by that public. It is pure fantasy to believe that the outrage that has fueled the dozens of nationwide protests against police brutality has been manufactured against an otherwise beloved police force that in every case has great relationships with the communities they serve.

Furthermore, the war on cops rhetoric coming from some police sources only reinforce the point made by many critics of the police that too many officers hold an “us versus them” mentality when dealing with the public. If the police believe they are working among an enemy population, their treatment of the public will undoubtedly reflect that mindset.

There is no greater threat to police-public relations than a police force that holds open hostility towards the people it is charged with serving. This jeopardizes public safety not only from police-public violence, but endangers communities by undermining the legitimacy of law enforcement itself.

The crisis in police-public relations is nowhere more obvious than in the public discourse surrounding all these events. There is almost a complete reversal of appropriate criticism here. Everyone should be condemning this horrific murder of police officers. There’s no possible justification for such an act. Whether some of the rhetoric coming from those of us who object to today’s police culture could somehow encourage or seem to excuse a crime like this is a question we absolutely ought to be asking ourselves. Moreover, if we care about the lives and liberty of non-violent citizens, we ought to encourage everyone to respond with restraint and respect when interacting with the police, even if those police are themselves acting outside of the law. We should be the ones saying, “Don’t fight back; don’t resist arrest; don’t provoke violence – and we’ll have your back.” Speaking especially to civil libertarians: we should be the first ones to recognize that initiating violence, against police officers in particular, is immoral, inexcusable and guaranteed to cause a further loss of liberty for all Americans.

On the other hand, the moral responsibility to check lawlessness and abuse of authority within law enforcement ranks lies first and foremost with those good, law-abiding officers who, we are constantly assured, make up the vast majority of police officers in this country. Whether the abusive behavior and militaristic mindset of a minority of officers could contribute to the widening loss of respect for law enforcement across much of our society is a question they ought to be publicly and privately asking. If they care about their fellow officers going home safely every night, they ought to be making a very public example of those few among them whose arrogance and violent tendencies unnecessarily cause harm or death. They should be the first ones to recognize that, as the public face of the law, they can encourage either respect or disrespect for the law by their interactions with the public.

Instead, we have the opposite. Activists who have a moral obligation to condemn this crime, especially in the present context, instead rush to point out the culpability of abusive police officers, while police spokesmen and supporters condemn peaceful and law-abiding critics for exercising the very liberties that they ostensibly exist to protect. And all the while, the violent spiral continues, fueled rather than restrained by the finger pointing, the hatred and the dishonest propaganda on all sides.