Dallas Police Chief David Brown spoke volumes when he said recently that Americans expect police officers to do too much, provide too many services and serve too many functions.
Yet the problem is bigger than that. Many people also have unrealistic expectations about what is required for police officers to do their jobs.
Take, for instance, the fact that – in the aftermath of a series of police shootings of African-American men by police officers – some Americans seem bothered that police are armed at all.
At a recent protest in Baton Rouge, a young woman screamed at the officers standing in front of her in riot gear: “You’re the only ones here with guns. Put your guns down, and then we can talk.”
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Oh please. Where do they find these people? A gun is a tool police officers need to do their job – just like a doctor needs a scalpel, a firefighter needs a hose, a banker needs a spreadsheet.
It’s been said that police often encounter people at their worst. And even at their best, human beings don’t always act rationally. So police learn to expect the unexpected.
For example, one of the most dangerous calls that any cop can get is a report of domestic violence, where a female victim might, one minute, shout expletives at her husband and, the next minute, fight officers who try to arrest him.
But there is another way to look at what that protester in Baton Rouge said about how police should lay down their firearms. It’s about the larger notion of equality. Some people mistakenly assume that when Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” he meant that we should all be given the same privileges.
The way the activist saw it, there was an inherent unfairness in the fact that police were armed and the protesters weren’t. It didn’t matter to her that police officers go through special training on how to properly handle weapons, or that they swear an oath to protect the public and might need a firearm to uphold it, or that a gun could come in handy if they had to defend their lives or those of others.
As Americans, what are we supposed to do when our need for public safety conflicts with our assumptions about equality?
As the five Dallas police officers who died in an ambush recently are memorialized and laid to rest, that’s where we have arrived. Some anti-police violence activists on the radical fringe want police departments disbanded altogether, while others would be content if police were simply disarmed and placed at the mercy of violent criminals who would still have access to deadly weapons.
This perverted notion of equality even carries over to how we’re supposed to talk about the victims of street violence. Here, the police reform activists and their liberal advocates in the media have painted themselves into a corner.
On the one hand, maintaining that all lives are equally precious, they insist that Americans should mourn not just the dead officers in Dallas but also the various victims of police violence.
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni recently wrote that President Barack Obama had gone to Dallas in an attempt to calm “a nation reeling from (the officers’) deaths and the ones just beforehand of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota.”
Does anyone believe that most Americans would equate the murderous ambush in Dallas – which resulted in five police officers targeted and killed, seven other officers wounded, and a major city paralyzed for several hours – with the unfortunate deaths of two individuals during encounters with police?
But on the other hand, the reform advocates push back against the suggestion that they should be more concerned about black-on-black crime because, they claim, there’s a difference between someone meeting his demise at the hands of a fellow citizen and that person being killed by an agency of the state – i.e. the police.
They can’t have it both ways. Are the police just like everyone else, or aren’t they?
Here’s the answer: They aren’t. When someone kills a police officer, it’s a blow against civilization. After all, if someone were to kill enough of them, the result would be chaos and the end of society.
Contact Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.