I consider myself to be “pro-cop,” and I think my body of work over the course of my news career backs that up.
I’ve written a lot of stories about law enforcement, because I believe it is essential that there exist a strong relationship, based on trust and mutual respect, between law enforcement and the general public, and if through my work I can in some small way contribute to that, I have a professional responsibility to do so.
Crime coverage lets the public know that law enforcement is doing their job in an effective manner (and occasionally enlists the public’s help in locating suspects). Profiles and other coverage serve to humanize the police; to remind the public that these men and women are our neighbors as well as cops.
But it’s important to remember one’s place in the overall scheme. Ultimately, all I’m doing is just writing stories about things other people do. The responsibility for creating a safe, just community lies with all of us, both members of the public and the men and women of law enforcement.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of that strong relationship. Law enforcement cannot effectively police a community without the trust and support of decent people, and decent people cannot trust and support law enforcement unless they know that everyone is getting a fair shake before the law, regardless of race, ethnicity, job, family, or anything else.
This week’s not guilty verdict in the official misconduct case of a Dawson County law enforcement officer was met with a lot of anger by some of our online and social media readership. I’ll not waste anyone’s time with speculation or editorializing on the outcome of the case. I’ve written what I believe to be fair stories on the matter, which are posted to this website, and in any event my opinion on the verdict is irrelevant.
Instead, I will note the response on social media to the ruling I witnessed broke down largely, though not entirely, along ethnic lines. I guess that should be expected, at this point. That’s pretty much how things are going all over these days, and I am thoroughly unqualified to tell people how to feel one way or another on that topic. I have no frame of reference. I've never felt discriminated against because of my race.
It’s more heartbreak on top of an already heartbreaking situation, and in the bigger picture it is more divisiveness in a country that seems on the verge of ripping itself apart.
The horror of the events of Aug. 31, 2015, cannot be borne by anyone who wasn’t directly involved in it. We cannot feel the full sting of their loss, though our hearts go out to them.
But count among the casualties of this situation the faith of some members of our community that we are all equal before the law, that we all are worthy of the same treatment. And that is a damned shame, because on the same night there were many other police officers, deputies, and state troopers who were doing their jobs with integrity and compassion. Racing to save the lives of a woman and an infant; investigating a possible crime scene; preventing unaware motorists from happening upon the scene and causing further loss of life.
For whatever it’s worth, I have seen enough from Dawson County’s law enforcement community to believe that these are overwhelmingly just and good people. They were there, coming under fire, the night in June 2014 a man on a meth binge tried to murder his girlfriend. They were there to pull a sleeping man out of a burning minivan in February 2015. They are there for your kids during the school year, keeping them safe, and countless other times they are called upon to risk themselves for the sake of others.
They didn’t ask what the skin color was of the people they were helping, and I believe local law enforcement will be there for you when you need them. They've been there before. They were there Aug. 31, 2015.
I do not think it is “anti-cop” to have high expectations of police officers. That’s what they signed up for. It's also not "anti-cop" to demand accountability, or to question whether or not justice has been served.
But we mustn’t take the bad situations and extrapolate them to represent the whole, because there is more good than bad, and the bad does not invalidate the good.
If you ask my young son what a police officer does, he will tell you a police officer helps people. Throughout his life it will be incumbent upon my son to live in accordance with the law, in an ethical and supportive manner, just as it is incumbent upon law enforcement to continue to reward a little boy’s faith in them by doing the same.
The gap between us is not as wide as it seems. We live in the same town. We occupy the same space. Your children are my son’s classmates and friends.
All we can do is pledge to be there for one another, whether we wear a badge or not, and follow through on it.