To the Editor:
The antiwar sentiments in the ’60s and ’70s displayed by college students and activists, while well-intentioned, created an unprecedented amount of hostility toward soldiers returning from Vietnam who, in most cases, were drafted into service. These brave soldiers had to change into civilian clothes when re-entering the country to avoid experiencing the misdirected wrath and media circus that would await them. This treatment included name calling, being spat at, physical assault, and degradation from the same citizens for whom they took an oath to serve and protect. This was among the lowest points in our country’s history, though admittedly the demonstrations did ultimately put enough pressure on Washington to bring an end to the war. Our soldiers, however, should have never been the focus of these demonstrators’ ire and hatred. Instead, it should have been directed at Washington and the politicians that got us into the conflict.
It appears that there is now a tragic similarity between what happened then to our brave soldiers with what is happening now to law enforcement in this country, with the media circus involving the protests taking place all over this country. The protesters’ actions and irresponsible calls to “kill cops” are emboldening agitators, as well as troubled souls in our country, who are violently acting out against the police. What is hard to understand is that these demonstrators who are spewing this hatred are the same people who would have no trouble calling these same police officers if someone was breaking into their car or home, or threatening their safety.
As with this country’s soldiers, police officers are the ones that we ask to run toward the danger while we are cowering in the corner. Every day they leave their homes and families never knowing if they will be fortunate enough to return home at the end of their shift. It is implausible that these demonstrators can be so shortsighted as to color all police with the same brush any more than it would be for law enforcement to do the same with the various members of the communities they police. There are many more factors that the police need to consider when carrying out their duties, such as observing conduct, and looking at criminal history, circumstances, and probable cause.
Police officers’ lives matter too, as do the lives of all citizens in this country regardless of their gender, color, or political affiliation. The politics of these demonstrations have silenced many from openly defending the police department for fear of being considered a racist when race really has very little to do with this movement.
What the movement is about is looking out for a group of young men whose collective actions have created an expectation of violence for which they need to take responsibility; and for whom law enforcement needs to create mechanisms within its ranks to be sure that their behavior is above reproach when dealing with the group, as well as any other members of the public. Whether this is done with body cameras, improved training, citizen review boards, etc., this is a problem that can be resolved by rational forward-thinking adults who want to better the lives of young men of color as well as keep law enforcement safe. We are all in this together. It’s not an “us vs. them” issue.
The leaders of this movement need to remove the negative and hateful tone that has evolved and put the spotlight they have to good use. This can be done by getting out of the streets and into the conference rooms, and hashing out the specifics of what it will take to move forward in a way that will protect all citizens as well as the law enforcement community. If they don’t, all their efforts will go the way of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which had many followers with good intentions, but whose efforts were hijacked by those with ulterior motives and as a result accomplished nothing. The choice is theirs to make. Let’s hope they choose wisely.