Over the last few years, our friends at Everytown and Moms Demand Action have worked with law enforcement agencies to promote laws and programs to reduce gun violence. One of these agencies is the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), an organization which has been around for more than a century and does the usual fraternal things ― picnics, Easter Egg hunts for the kids, hospital visits, funerals, the stuff which makes life a little easier for the men and women on the job. And let’s be honest, being a cop isn’t exactly a day at the beach. I spent a day last week with two former members of the NYPD, both highly-decorated officers, both having gone on to illustrious positions in politics and law. They both said that law enforcement is a much more difficult and demanding career than when they first hit the streets.
In 2015 Everytown and MOMS were sponsors of the annual FOP conference and they were planning to staff a Be SMART table at this year’s meeting in order to talk to police family members about safe storage of guns. According to the Census, there are roughly 750,000 full-time, sworn officers in the U.S., which means that there have to be at least 750,000 households where a handgun could be sitting around at any time.
Unfortunately, the presence of Everytown and MOMS at the national meeting has now been cancelled due to the fact that an Oklahoma law enforcement officer, Betty Shelby, will be participating on a panel during the conference and her public attendance precludes Everytown and MOMS from showing up. Betty Shelby was a Tulsa cop who in 2016 shot and killed an unarmed Black man, Terence Crutcher, during a confrontation next to Crutcher’s car.
Actually, there wasn’t any kind of confrontation in a physical or even verbal sense. Shelby and another officer had drawn their guns when Crutcher didn’t respond to their commands, and when he put his hand inside the open window of his vehicle, Shelby blasted away. In fact she never saw a gun and it was broad daylight when the incident occurred. Following the trial, one of the jurors felt the prosecutor had presented a “shoddy” case and the entire jury sent a letter to the Tulsa Police stating that Officer Shelby should never be a police officer again. When she was assigned to a desk job, she resigned from the force.
There is no question that we have a double standard when it comes to dealing with cops who commit gun violence. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to read Franklin Zimring’s authoritative book, When Police Kill. The Fraternal Order of Police has also been very aggressive when it comes to defending cops against misconduct charges or worse; the head of Tulsa’s FOP chapter voiced support for Officer Shelby after the trial but the condolences he offered the Crutcher family were too little, certainly too late.
You may recall that Trump went out to Long Island and told a group of cops that there was nothing wrong with using a little “rough stuff” whenever they had to arrest a perp. He was only “kidding” of course, but every major police organization condemned his remarks except one, the Fraternal Order of Police, whose president, Chuck Canterbury, said that the president’s pathetic attempt to make a joke out of police brutality shouldn’t have been taken “literally.”
Everytown and Moms were certainly correct in pulling out of the FOP show when they learned that a former cop who gunned down an unarmed man was going to be on public display. But they are equally correct in their efforts to enlist all law enforcement agencies in the drive to make every community safe from guns. Cops are the only people who should be walking around with immediate access to lethal force. And this needs to be stated again and again to every police agency, not just those agencies with whom we agree.