TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
It’s hard to be a cop. To be a cop in the United States that is.
Many police forces around the world don’t require their officers to carry weapons, the British bobbie perhaps being the most vivid representation of this philosophy. There are numerous reasons for this approach to policing, perhaps the most relevant being a strong emphasis on proper gun control and regulation in whatever country they serve. When British cops go out on the beat, they may always face violence in some form, but the reality is that it probably will not come at the end of a gun.
It’s different in the United States.
Here there are more guns than there are stars in the sky. Thanks to the National Rifle Organization, it’s more difficult to buy a bottle of wine in your local grocery store, where you are required to show your ID regardless of your age, than it is to buy a gun when in most cases almost no ID is necessary at all. So, as I’ve written before, any time an American police officer goes into any kind of a situation, he or she has to assume that the person they are dealing with is armed.
There is no scientific justification for this observation. A recent study out only in the last month or so has shown that police are more likely to shoot people in states with lax gun laws than in states that have tougher gun regulations.
So yes, it is not easy to be a police officer in the United States. But to some degree that is kind of beside the point.
I’m sure that no police officer signs up thinking “I’m likely to be shot in the line of duty today,” but if they are not aware that this is a distinct possibility, they are in the wrong line of work. Police work is inherently dangerous work. (Although will statistics show that there’s never been a safer time to be a police officer in the United States, regardless of what you might hear on Fox “News” or on Rush Limbaugh and his ilk.)
And this is where the idea behind “Cops Lives Matter”, and “Black Lives Matter” diverge.
African-Americans are being shot by the police at an alarming rate. And has been shown repeatedly in recent situations, they are often shot without provocation or when the police officer in question is not in danger of any kind. And while it is true that the police are shooting innocent people of all colors too often these days, studies have shown that police in America are more likely to shoot African-Americans at three times the rate they shoot whites or other minorities.
And the point that Black Lives Matter is trying to make is that this is not okay.
Black Lives Matter organizers say they are tired of the diuretic platitudes that too many white politicians in particular trot out when asked to deal with this issue. And so the organizers have decided to take a more confrontational approach, one which I totally support.
This does not make them, in the words of one moronic white southern sheriff from Georgia, “a terrorist group.“ But that is the typical reaction from those on the right; it seems that any time any African-American group forcefully stands for black community’s rights, conservative media labels them “thugs” or, as in the case above, “terrorists.”
Confrontation is almost always a more difficult road to travel. Not every reaction to it will be a positive one. Heavens knows that Bernie Sanders supporters were outraged when Black Lives Matters organizers confronted him during a campaign speech.
But when you’re dealing with the kind of violent and ingrained racist attitudes that seem to lurk in so many police departments across the country, it’s pretty obvious that reasonable conversations aren’t going to get the job done.
There have been numerous articles written in various publications over the years, about how black parents, regardless of their economic background or level of education, are forced to give their sons, “the talk” – which is not about sex, but about how they have to behave around the police so they don’t get shot.
And so sometimes you have to take more dramatic steps to get people’s attention, which is exactly what Black Lives Matter is doing. And if they ruffle a few feathers, but those ruffled feathers actually work to make meaningful changes, so much the better.
It’s important to note that most police officers in America go about their jobs day by day treating people fairly and resolving tough situations in a nonviolent matter. They deserve our respect and appreciation for the tough job that they do.
But they also need our feedback and criticism when they’re not getting the job done, or when their actions betray a not-so-subtle racist attitude towards African-Americans or other minorities.
Copyright Tom Regan 2015
Contact Tom Regan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Is there really a ‘war on cops’? The data show that 2015 will likely be one of the safest years in history for police: https://www.aei.org/publication/is-there-really-a-war-on-cops-the-data-show-that-2015-will-likely-be-one-of-the-safest-years-in-history-for-police/
More Police Killed in States With Higher Levels of Gun Ownership: http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2015/08/police-killings-state-gun-ownership
Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.
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