As I prepare to conduct the orientation for our 100th Basic Police Academy class, I’m listening to news reports coming from Dallas about eleven police officers being shot by snipers, five of whom were killed. This all happened during a protest about two African-American men who were killed by police during the last 48 hours in two different parts of the country. The news media and every social media channel is filled with rage over these shootings and the on-going racial conflict between the police and people of color. As night falls, protests are starting in Oakland and highway 880 is now shutdown. And as I watch all of this, I’m left to wonder how to even begin my orientation session for this next generation of police After 35 years in law enforcement, 30 of which I’ve been teaching in the basic police academy, I can honestly say this is the most difficult time for law enforcement I’ve ever seen. It will be months before the investigation of the latest shootings is completed and I would never make a statement speculating about the judgments of the officers involved. Police shootings are tragic in every case whether they end up being justified or not. The loss of life can never be replaced and always changes the lives of the survivors including the officers involved.
I’m also thinking tonight about how in the last two weeks I’ve watched the Black Lives Matter movement take the position of advocating broad exclusions of all police at Pride celebrations in San Francisco and Toronto. In fact, they are advocating that police be excluded from all Pride celebrations. Pride celebrations were born from a conflict between LGBT people and the police some 47 years ago. Today police, LGBT and straight, march as members and allies of our community. As a community, we have been fights for acceptance and inclusion within society and for equality within the law. Why now would any member of our community advocate for exclusion of the police or any other ally?
The Black Lives Matter movement is angry with police and is advocating to exclude all police because of the actions of a few. I’m not trying to minimize the magnitude of the tragedy that happened in either of these two recent shootings. And let me be clear, I condemn any use of excessive force by police under any circumstances. When police officers make mistakes, the results are often more significant than a mistake in any other job. Abuse of power and authority by police must be addressed administratively and, when appropriate, criminally. But we can’t condemn all police officers because of the actions of a few anymore than police can hold all black people accountable based on the actions of a few. We call this racial profiling when police do it and it’s inappropriate in either direction or from either side.
When the Black Lives Matter movement protests the involvement of police in LGBT pride parades, they are promoting and advocating an “us vs. them” relationship with police. For the LGBT members of the Black Lives Matter movement, this position is counter to what the greater LGBT civil rights movement has been fighting for over the last 5 decades and is a position I cannot support. This is a time for unity and inclusion. Both the LGBT movement and Black Lives Matter movement need every ally we can attract. At a higher level, we need to unify our communities with police, not create separation. We need to all stand together as citizens and as law enforcement to condemn misconduct and criminal behavior by anyone. But we need to always remember that individuals, not entire races or professions, commit acts of misconduct or crimes. Let’s focus on holding individuals accountable for their behavior, not an entire race or the vast majority of police officers who are out there doing good work.
Our country is struggling with racism on many levels, but we aren’t going to eliminate racism by exclusion, it simply isn’t the answer to this complex problem.