LAW AND ORDER

At the intersection of Black and Blue Lives

By Michael Ryan

Law and order is among the most popular genres on television. In real life, it’s not so popular these days.

There was arguably a war on law enforcement the past year, fueled by a particular handful of killings of black men by police in the past three years.

Several of the killings were clear outrages – including the one of a fleeing pedestrian shot in the back by an officer in North Charleston, S.C., in 2015 and the 16-bullet gunning down of an admittedly bizarre-acting, but not imminently threatening, man in Chicago in 2014.

The flashpoints, which trace back to 2014’s shooting in Ferguson, Mo., and the reaction to them – in some cases the overreaction to them – caused 2016 to be the worst year for race relations since the 1960s.

And it was the worst year-plus for law enforcement in memory. Officers have been targeted for several years for abuse and violence: In 2015, Black Lives Matter protesters chanted “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon.” And in 2016, some 64 officers were gunned down.

 

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Members of an honor guard carry the flag-draped casket holding slain Dallas Police officer Michael Krol, one of five police officers killed by a lone gunman during a protest in Dallas last summer.

 
The violence against police was never worse than on July 7, 2016, in Dallas, where Micah Xavier Johnson shot down five police officers in cold blood and wounded another nine, as well as two civilians.

The sinister sniper attack took place, ironically enough, while police were protecting anti-police protesters.

Critics faulted the Obama administration for failing to quell the racial unrest or adequately supporting law enforcement.

“It’s a war on cops,” the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations said after the Dallas massacre. “And the Obama administration is the Neville Chamberlain of this war.”

The increased danger and decrease in moral support appeared to lead to less assertive policing in various big cities. One report on the first half of 2016 indicated, according to Fox News, that “proactive stops in Chicago were down 80 percent from the year before and that the Second City saw a decline in gun arrests and gun confiscations of 37 and 35 percent, respectively.”

Similar concerns about police pullbacks arose in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in a police van. Public officials there fanned the anti-police flames – though ultimately, none of the six officers charged was convicted for a single crime.

Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute noted that Los Angeles officers “are advising one another that it’s crazy to get out of their cars, unless it’s a 911 call.”

Not surprisingly, many believe civilian-on-civilian shootings have increased as a result of the anti-police climate. This can’t go on. It must stop here and now.

A competing “Blue Lives Matter” movement has sprung up to support police and promote better law enforcement PR. The website bluelivesmatter.blue – “founded and run entirely by active and retired law enforcement officers” – argues that “political leadership and mass media are failing to stand for truth.”

It also says, “In today’s evolving society, an increasing number of citizens fail to accept responsibility for their actions and attempt to escape the consequences through outward blame.”

We couldn’t agree more. Individual responsibility would prevent the vast majority of these conflagrations. Don’t break the law. Don’t flee from police. Obey lawful police orders.

Body cameras, which growing numbers of police agencies are adding, also encourage officers to be responsible.

Media outlets also could help, by resisting the temptation to sensationalize confrontations between blacks and “blues,” especially before all the pertinent facts are in.

The Ferguson case is Exhibit A: The media portrayed Michael Brown as an innocent victim with a “Hands up, don’t shoot” approach. Instead, as even the Obama Department of Justice found, Brown was the aggressor.

Law enforcement officers and their supporters are also looking to President Trump for help. He received endorsements from such groups before the election, and one pre-election survey found 84 percent of working officers planned to vote for him.

Mr. Trump and his Department of Justice can, and should, set a much more pro-law enforcement tone.

It’s ultimately up to all of us to cool the temperatures of the last few years, though. With the immediacy of the Internet, it’s easy to overreact to cases we know little about.

As all those law-and-order TV shows illustrate, there are always unexpected plot twists.

 
Michael Ryan is editorial page editor of ‘The Augusta Chronicle’ in Georgia.

CHALLENGES

A series of shootings of black men by police over several years led to an anti-law-enforcement movement and climate in 2016.
Law enforcement officers have felt under siege – and, in fact, have been ambushed and killed in frightening numbers – perhaps causing them to police less aggressively and giving criminals more leeway.
A few of the shootings in question appear unjustified, but others were justified. Nonetheless, the reaction to them – in many cases overreaction – has led to a sharp deterioration in race relations.

OPPORTUNITIES

With a new year and new presidential administration, support for law enforcement should surge in 2017.
Across the country, although police have been unfairly maligned, agencies are looking at what they can do to improve community relations – including outreach to youths, community education programs and increased training.
As reported by ‘USA Today’:
• Law enforcement departments such as in Phoenix are doubling minority recruiting.
• “Atlanta’s Police Foundation raises money to give officers an incentive to live in refurbished homes in Atlanta at no cost for two years.”
• Started by a former Cleveland Browns football player, a community outreach group there “is dispatched to provide crisis prevention to calm things down.”

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