We Must Stand With Law Enforcement Officers

The vast majority of police officers protect and serve their communities with honor, integrity and professionalism. As president of AFSCME, a union that represents more than 100,000 public safety employees, I will always speak out when all officers are attacked based on the actions of a few.

During the past few months, our nation has been engaged in a long-overdue but no-less-difficult discussion about race, justice and the role of law enforcement. Let me be clear. Our union has long stood, unwavering, for the core values of the civil rights movement, with fairness and justice for all paramount among them. We will continue to do so. But our fight for justice and respect extends to all women and men who put themselves in harm's way every day, especially while in the line of duty as a law enforcement officer.

The members of our union will not condone officers abusing their communities' trust. But we will always stand with officers across this nation who keep us safe and who strengthen our communities. It is sickening to see law enforcement targeted with violence, as they have been nationwide in recent months.

Just a few days before Christmas, two officers in Brooklyn, New York, were gunned down in an ambush on their patrol car. This month in Philadelphia, a police officer was shot while protecting customers in a video store as a robbery unfolded. He'd stopped in to buy a game for his 8-year-old son, who'd made him proud with good grades. Last week, in Ferguson, Missouri, two officers were wounded -- deliberate shooting targets while keeping the peace at the protests that have embroiled the city.

In all, 116 officers were killed in 2014, leaving behind wives, husbands and children. These women and men answered a call to service. Every day, thousands more like them suit up to keep our streets safe, knowing full well that they might not make it home after their shift's end. They guard our homes and businesses. When disaster strikes, they come to the rescue. They face down criminals with automatic weapons -- entire arsenals in some cases -- while they themselves often carry only a service weapon.

And too often today, the danger they face is because a politician cut funding to their department without bothering to ask what kind of risk that would pose to our neighborhoods, or because a city council thought it would save some money by buying outdated equipment, only to find out that it was a bad deal that put lives in jeopardy.

When it's not danger they're facing, it's disrespect. That comes when police officer pensions are cut, when their collective bargaining rights are revoked, or when they're asked to pay more and more for healthcare benefits, or it comes from politicians like the Connecticut legislators who refused to provide treatment for post-traumatic stress to the brave officers who responded to the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

And, finally, too often the disrespect police that officers face comes from their fellow citizens. When a handful of officers fail to uphold their duties or live up to our expectations, all are vilified in a media circus. Keyboard cowboys think nothing of firing off a tweet disrespecting police, knowing nothing of facing actual live fire.

We expect police officers to size up a dangerous situation instantly and make the right decision every time. We expect them to be social workers. We ask them to be humanitarians.

It is a mistake to think that because they are on the front lines, it's the role of police officers alone to fix the deep-rooted inequalities afflicting too many Americans. But officers must absolutely be active participants in an honest dialogue about the problems rooted in race and poverty that face our nation.

It is our job to figure out a way to make American life more fair and equitable for everyone, and we cannot ignore this opportunity to have a frank conversation that brings everyone to the table. Together, we must confront the difficult truths about who we are as a nation and set a course forward that strengthens our neighborhoods, be they urban or rural.