It was disturbing to see a large group of law enforcement professionals cheer last week as the president of the United States argued in favor of police brutality.
But it was heartening to see the reaction by police departments and law enforcement groups throughout the country as word of that event from New York spread. The Suffolk Police Department, where President Trump spoke, quickly and forcefully disavowed the comments.
“As a department, we do not and will not tolerate” roughing up prisoners, it said in a statement.
The Boston Police Department, New York Police Department, departments in Los Angeles and Florida and in between, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and others, made it clear their professional – and ethical – standards would not be compromised.
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Charlotte police declined to address Trump’s comments directly, saying only: “The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department will continue to serve our community with professionalism and respect.”
The quick national response went a long way in tempering what would have been another ember on the fire of distrust that remains at the heart of tension between police and the communities of color they’ve sworn to protect and serve. Had they allowed the image of a group of police officers laughing at the suggestion of police brutality – during an era of heightened tension and explosions of unrest – to go unchallenged, their jobs would have grown more difficult and the divide would have widened. The stain of those cheers from the audience couldn’t be downplayed by deeming it nervous laughter or, as a spokesman for Blue Lives Matter claimed, just a joke.
That’s why the quick, unequivocal response by police departments should be commended. It’s never easy to criticize the actions of colleagues, particularly when you feel those who’ve chosen to wear the uniform have received an unfair rap and face unrealistic expectations. But that’s precisely why police officers need to be willing to make such public declarations more frequently.
Fair or not, many in communities of color aren’t convinced police are willing to police their own. They watched as cheers erupted at the Republican National Convention when a controversial sheriff announced that Baltimore officers wouldn’t be convicted in the Freddie Gray death in Baltimore, even though Gray suffered from a nearly severed neck while in custody. Even when clearly unacceptable acts occur, such as a North Charleston police officer shooting a man in the back as he ran away, there has not always been a groundswell of public reaction by law enforcement officials.
That’s why the incident from last weekend, which could have turned into something ugly, can become a tool to help re-establish trust between law enforcement and communities.
It matters a great deal that so many police officers so quickly stood together to declare that police brutality is never acceptable, that only the amount of force necessary to secure an arrest should be used, no matter the circumstances.
Well done. We’d like to see more.