All Lives Matter

What really angers me, however, is the fact that the protesters are using the rally cry, "Black Lives Matter." While they are correct in what they say, wouldn't a better cry be "All Lives Matter?" And that includes the lives of law enforcement officers who have to make split-second decisions while under attack.

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I have been serving in law enforcement for more than 36 years and my career is fast coming to an end. I am sad to say that I will likely be leaving this job very angry over the present state of affairs in America and the public's attitude toward the men and women who keep the peace and protect them. In particular, I am deeply troubled by the recent ambush attack and murders of police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in New York City, Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo in Las Vegas, and Pennsylvania state trooper Bryon Dickson.

I can't remember the level of anti-police sentiments being this high at any other time in my career. During the Eric Garner grand jury decision protests last fall, demonstrators in the Murray Hill neighborhood of New York City chanted, "What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want them? Now!" Really, is that what our society in general wants? If so, it is not a good time to be serving in law enforcement.

Who is responsible for this growing anti-police fervor? Politicians, religious leaders, and prominent society people have made inflammatory statements regarding race relations and the police. Al Sharpton, New York Congressman Charlie Rangel, and even President Barack Obama all have issued statements that many believe have helped fan the flames of antagonism toward law enforcement. This appears to be some attempt at creating an "us vs. them" mentality of police vs. the citizenry. But I don't know any police officer who took this job with that mentality, maybe good guys vs. bad guys but not police vs. citizenry. Most of us came on the job with the idea of serving the public, keeping innocent people safe, and putting the "bad guy" in jail.

As police we are used to being in control of dangerous situations, and we are trained to handle them. But we typically encounter suspects who are determined to make the police-suspect encounter as caustic as it can possibly be. Most of us can easily recall a story about some person we encountered for a minor law violation who acted in such an unreasonable manner that we were forced to make an arrest. In many of these cases, all we really wanted to do was simply investigate the situation, warn the person about his or her activity, document the stop, and issue a warning.

The Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., started out as a stop for walking down the middle of the street. The Eric Garner incident in New York City was triggered by the illegal sale of loose cigarettes. Maybe if Brown and Garner had simply followed the verbal commands of the involved officers they would still be alive today. When did it become OK to defy law officers because you simply don't like to follow the morals, norms, and values of a decent society? You have no right to resist a lawful arrest of a police officer.

The Rev. Al Sharpton stated at the funeral of Michael Brown, "The policies of this country cannot go unchallenged. We cannot have aggressive policing of low-level crimes and can’t deal with the higher level. Something’s strange that you can get all these guns into the hood, but you go around chasing people with loosies (singly purchased) cigarettes and walking in the streets.” I don’t remember when Al Sharpton became an expert on how professional police officers should conduct themselves when policing. Police officers are charged with enforcing all laws. It is true that we use discretion on a daily basis and often overlook minor, nuisance crimes. However, if a citizen complains to the police and wants an offender locked up for selling "loosies," then the officer should take arrest action. That fulfills the whole concept of doing what the community you are serving desires.

Sharpton is not the only anti-police activist who uses twisted facts and logic to advance his agenda and vilify us. In a Dec. 22 interview on CNN, Congressman Charlie Rangel flatly denied that his constituents engaged in chants calling for dead cops during the Eric Garner protests in Murray Hill. Interviewer Ashleigh Banfield, however, pointed out to Rangel that the actions of these protesters were captured in a YouTube video. Rangel quickly did what any "skilled" politician does when proven wrong. He changed the subject.

President Obama also seems to speak about controversial police incidents without having all of the facts. Delivering an address at the annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation dinner last September, the president stated the death of Michael Brown "awakened our nation. Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement—guilty of walking while black or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness."

Sorry, Mr. President, but Michael Brown was not targeted because he was black; he was stopped because he was violating the law by walking in the street and later determined to be a suspect in a strong-arm robbery. So former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson did what any good police officer should do in that situation; he stopped Wilson for a traffic infraction. It was Wilson's duty to inject himself into Michael Brown's life that fateful day. It was Brown who turned the encounter into a fight. And as police officers, we don't back down in the face of danger. So Wilson fought first to take Brown into custody and then used deadly force because Brown was a deadly threat. Not only has a Missouri grand jury concluded this is what happened, last month the Department of Justice issued its final report on the Brown shooting and concluded Wilson was justified in his actions.

Was our president not aware of these circumstances before he so casually spoke about the topic? President Obama seems to have a pattern of questioning the actions of police officers before he has all the facts. You may recall that President Obama spoke "off the cuff" in July 2009 when he commented that the police officer who arrested Professor Henry Gates "acted stupidly." The officer in that case responded to a citizen's call of a suspicious man and took quick, decisive and, if I may add, correct police action in arresting the confrontational Henry Gates who refused to identify himself after trying to break into his own home. The officer in that incident proudly (and rightfully so) did not apologize for doing his job.

President Obama does not appear to be a friend to the law enforcement community based on these actions. Has anyone heard our nation's leader make any statement in support of Officer Darren Wilson? I know I haven't. Can you imagine what Wilson has been through since the Brown incident? His life has certainly changed since that incident. He has faced death threats, the stress of a lengthy grand jury investigation, the likelihood of a civil trial, and the eventual resignation from his job. Yet in spite of all the stress placed upon Wilson, we have not heard any words of encouragement from the president in support of this officer, not even after he was cleared. The very basic premise of our judicial system determined that Wilson acted in a reasonable and, more importantly, a lawful manner during that encounter. But the president chooses to ignore what Wilson has endured. It is not good leadership for an impartial leader to perform in that manner.

What really angers me, however, is the fact that the protesters are using the rally cry, "Black Lives Matter." While they are correct in what they say, wouldn't a better cry be "All Lives Matter?" And that includes the lives of law enforcement officers who have to make split-second decisions while under attack.

On a daily basis officers are protecting the rights of those protesters by keeping them safe and allowing them to pass on their hateful message. Officers across the nation are demonstrating their professionalism by exercising amazing restraint when being confronted by these protesters. Shouldn't our president and other leaders recognize this effort on the part of law enforcement? This country will need its police officers to help build the bridges between the races that the more thoughtful protesters want to see. Law enforcement is necessary in our society, and the professionals who work in law enforcement should be embraced by a civil society instead of being loathed and hated. Maybe those protesters should walk a mile in police officers' shoes to see what an officer endures on a daily basis. I can guarantee it would be an eye-opening experience.

It is my fondest hope that these anti-police protesters, in spite of the vast media attention they are receiving, are the minority segment of our society. I would really like to believe that, in spite of the inflammatory rhetoric, the majority of good citizens in this great country still support their local police. Being a cop today is by no means an easy job. We are faced with dangerous, stress-filled, often seemingly hopeless situations. I really hope these people understand that without our police officers putting their lives on the line on a daily basis, this country would quickly end up in an unimaginably chaotic situation from which there might not be any return.

In the words of 13-year-old Jaden Ramos, the son of murdered New York City police officer Rafael Ramos, "Today I had to say 'bye' to my father. He was there for me every day of my life; he was the best father I could ask for. It's horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people they call for help."

No truer words have been spoken, Jaden. It's just really sad that it took a 13-year-old and the tragic deaths of police officers to put it all in perspective!

Ray Cowin is a lieutenant with the Chicago Police Department and a criminal justice adjunct instructor at Triton College, River Grove, Ill.; National Louis University in Chicago; and the University of Phoenix in Schaumburg, Ill. He is a 36-year veteran of law enforcement and has served on three Chicago-area departments, holding the positions of detective, field training officer, evidence technician, tactical team supervisor, school liaison officer, and terrorism liaison officer.

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