Those in our profession have always been in harm's way. But over the past several years and especially over the past few months, we have seen the effect that irresponsible rhetoric can have in exacerbating the current climate of mistrust and transforming it into violence targeting police officers. We have to say, with one voice, "Enough is enough!"
Opportunistic politicians spent the months since the tragedy in Ferguson piously wringing their hands and bemoaning the lack of trust in police by the minority community. Mayors, members of Congress, and professional racists from all sides have sought to advance their often self-serving opinions, as a hyperventilating media nods knowingly and faithfully reports each and every word.
The media has saturated our airways with images of demonstrators, protected by police officers, exercising their First Amendment rights as we Americans have done throughout our country's history. But we have also seen far too many instances where these peaceful demonstrators transformed into or were overcome by large angry mobs engaged in widespread destruction of property. We also saw law enforcement being restrained from vigorous action to protect property and to ensure that no lives—officers or civilians—were jeopardized by the mobs.
During these broadcasts far too many media personalities, community leaders, and even elected officials described pictures of burning cars and broken windows as "peaceful demonstrations," giving the instances of mob violence and destruction tacit legitimization as means of social change. By failing to swiftly condemn the outbreak of violence, the media and our political leaders invited an escalation of that violence, which only led to events like the assassination of NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. The killer of these two officers believed that his outrage at a perceived failure of justice was reason enough to end these two officers' lives and then his own.
These same politicians and their media allies ignore our decaying infrastructure, our substandard schools, our broken families, poor nutrition and the lack of employment opportunities that create a toxic environment and breed crime. But they focus with laser vision on every real or perceived mistake made by law enforcement officers, who fight a running battle to keep the streets safe for our poorest and most disadvantaged citizens.
It is our job to protect others, but it is not "part of the job" to be a target of a hate-fueled assassin looking to kill a cop. We do not accept that our uniforms alone make us targets because someone was driven to rage over the outcome of a court case or an inflammatory speech about the institutional racism of the police.
In an effort to reduce and combat increased violence against police, the Fraternal Order of Police has called on Congress to expand current federal hate crimes law to include law enforcement officers. Under current law persons who deliberately victimize another person because of race, color, creed, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability are subject to greater penalties. The U.S. Department of Justice collects data on these crimes so that we in law enforcement can do a better job of deterring and preventing them.
Of the 47 deaths by gunfire suffered by law enforcement in 2014, nine of them–that's 19%—were ambush killings–deliberate efforts to murder police officers simply because they were police officers. These Americans who choose to be law enforcement officers to serve their communities find themselves hunted and targeted just because of the uniform they wear. It is only just that the law offer them protection.
The FOP is also working hard to reauthorize and fully fund programs like the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act and the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) programs, as well as the programs administered by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Congress should also pass the National Blue Alert Act.
All of these measures and programs will have a very real and measurable impact on the safety of our officers.
Finally, one of the most important things we can do to strengthen the bonds of trust and mutual respect between government and our communities is to restore our public confidence in and commitment to due process. Sadly, the media and public figures often engage in a rush to judgement, further eroding trust and damaging due process. Due process must be unaffected by negative media coverage, threats of criminal activity, mass violence, or other retribution by the public. Law enforcement officers, as public employees, have just as much right to due process as anyone else in our nation.
Enough is enough! Stay safe and God bless.
Chuck Canterbury is the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police.