Because of my 35-year career as a sworn, gun-toting, member of the Los Angeles Police Department, I am often accosted by friends and acquaintances demanding explanations for the recent flood of police abuses across the country. Many of these inquiries are genuine. However, the aggressive tone of many others clearly shows the questioners have already judged me as complicit in these events -- guilty by association. While I am not privy to any insider information regarding these events, I do have the experience to provide a different perspective on the current crisis in law enforcement from the inside.
As an experienced Law Enforcement professional, I understand the public's frustrations and anger caused by the recent rash of incidents of questionable -- possibly criminal -- police shootings and misconducts. I too am frustrated by the deadly cost of these egregious episodes of police violence, failures in training, and unprofessional behaviors.
I am also exasperated by the way these incidents -- which should and must be objectively investigated and adjudicated -- have been hot-buttoned, twisted, and exploited for media soundbites, headlines, and political advantage. Finding solutions to the issues behind these incidents is difficult enough without the flames of undirected unrest being constantly fanned by a quest for ratings or personal political gain.
To confront the elephant in the room, there is no excuse for a police code of silence in any form. It is plain and simple corruption. Police are no more immune to the laws of the land than any citizen. If anything, police should be held to a higher standard because of the position of trust and responsibility they have willingly accepted. Lying, turning a blind eye, or joining in a cover up -- at any level -- makes those participating as guilty as those involved in the original incident.
I intend no offense in this column. The ability to have frank and respectful interaction between opposing viewpoints will often reveal a wide common ground. Through conversation, we achieve revelation, understanding, and the ability to change for the better. We may agree in the end to disagree, but that is the nature of controversial situations and personal experiences. However, respect and control over our emotions is the quickest way to find eventual solutions in which compromise and decision can be reached.
Consequently, the purposeful fueling of controversy by the news media and the virulent rhetoric of agenda driven politicians continues to cause potentially irreversible damages to both sides of the controversy. It is completely contrary to sincere attempts to find answers and apply appropriate actions. Public blind acceptance of the malfeasance of these self-centric entities can only lead to anarchy and chaos.
Anger mongering, self-proclaimed, Facebook and Twitter pundits, who have no experience dealing with the split second decisions law enforcement is forced to make every day (the huge majority correctly) only distract attention from the real issues. They are engaged in nothing more than jumping to conclusions, jumping on bandwagons, or simply jumping up and down waving their arms to get attention.
Everyone has the right to an opinion. Everyone has the right to voice their opinion, to disagree with the opinions of others, and to vociferously object to actions they believe are wrong. Everyone has the right to non-violent protest. Everyone has the right to stand up and be heard and recognized.
But all rights come with responsibilities. You cannot have one without the other. The media has the right to report the news. They also have the responsibility to report events accurately and objectively using confirmed sources. When chasing ratings, web hits, and advertisers become more important than journalistic ethics, serving the public becomes an insignificant afterthought.
A populace taking cues from instant news and viral social networking panders to the lowest common denominator. This leads to ill-informed opinions based on emotion alone...Facts be damned... Understanding be damned... Reason be damned...To say nothing of compassion, respect, or a desire to institute corrective change in a positive manner.
To be clear, I am not referring to the Black Lives Matter movement. Their anger has roots in racial injustice which goes far deeper than the inordinate number of law enforcement contacts with black men resulting in tragedy. Each police department is different. Each situation is separate and unique. Each involved officer is an individual and has the right to an objective defense. However, it is understandably hard for those who believe they are being racially targeted to understand why so few law enforcement officers are held criminally liable for their actions.
Because of my connections to law enforcement, it would appear my sympathies should side with those wearing the uniform on these issues. They do, but not to the extent of protecting the actions of badge heavy individuals, or those caught up in the Wyatt Earp Syndrome, who use their authority with impunity. Those individuals need to be identified, removed from the ranks, and prosecuted if their actions have broken the law. These individuals bring the massive number of honorable law enforcement officers into disrespect, placing them in further danger in a job already more than tough enough.
Simply responding to the concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement with the phrase All Lives Matter is dismissive, insulting, and misses the valid and heartbreaking point behind the movement. Perhaps, the more specific slogan, Black Lives Matter, Too, might have served better, but quibbling over such details fails to address the true, difficult, issues causing the need for a Black Lives Matter movement in the first place.
Do these current tragedies and clashes just involve the actions of individual law enforcement officers? Or is there a systematic effort by law enforcement nationwide to operate with impunity toward racial minorities? Perhaps these are the not the only questions to be asking.
At its heart -- beyond its loud, sometimes disruptive, actions -- the Black Lives Matter movement should force us as Americans to ask much harder questions about our nation as a whole.
What does our history as a nation show about our responses toward to racial injustice? How have we acted in the past toward these emotionally charged issues that speak to the true nature of the human condition? But, more importantly, how are we going to act now? What changes can we make? What solutions can we bring? How do we fix something that because of our past may be irreparably broken?
It has been said in numerous ways, politicians worry about the next election while leaders worry about the next generation. Where are our leaders? An ever-growing segment of our culture wants to simply tear down without giving thought to the consequences of their actions or to providing alternatives as it is much easier to smash a pair of glasses than to make a pair. In our communities, we need to stop smashing and start finding ways to make things better.
In the aftermath of volatile situations, we need to fix, correct, and take appropriate and objective measures to either punish or praise. These goals require tremendous commitment coupled with the ability to have a mind open enough to accept that your opinion may be wrong, biased, or simply in need of adjustment.
Part II of Law Enforcement In Crisis will focus on specific causes and solutions.