Violence must end
Five Dallas police officers were killed Thursday night by a lone sniper who told police during a subsequent standoff that he wanted to kill white police officers.
Micah Johnson was an Army veteran and reservist with a specialty in carpentry and masonry. He served one tour in Afghanistan, had trained in tactical shooting at a self-defense school and followed black militant groups on social media.
The five officers who were killed, along with seven officers and two civilians who were wounded, were attending a peaceful protest over fatal shootings by police in Louisiana and Minnesota days earlier.
Alton Sterling was fatally shot early Tuesday in Baton Rouge after police responded to a 911 caller who said a black man selling CDs and DVDs in front of a local convenience store had threatened him with a gun.
Philando Castile was fatally shot Wednesday night during a traffic stop in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn.
Both men were carrying firearms; Sterling illegally, while Castile had a concealed carry permit, according to reports.
Although we have seen the disturbing bystander videos of the Baton Rouge and Minnesota shootings, we don’t know the full details. We haven’t seen the videos from police body cameras, from dashboard cameras, from surveillance videos. And those bystander videos don’t show the full interaction between the police officers and the black men who were fatally shot by them.
It is disturbing and problematic whenever any of our fellow citizens is fatally shot by a police officer. Many such shootings are unjustified while others may not be.
What we do know is that such shootings should always be fully investigated by an impartial outside agency. And the investigation should be transparent: Release any body cam, dash cam and surveillance videos and the 911 tapes as soon as possible; autopsy results, forensic findings and witness statements when those become available.
We also have learned not to rush to judgment without such evidence. In the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Mo., one witness claimed Brown had his hands up to surrender. “Hands up, don’t shoot” became a rallying cry. But witness testimony and physical evidence, including ballistics, showed that Brown’s hands were not up.
In Dallas, however, the facts are clear. Johnson’s ambush of police officers was a heinous, despicable act committed by a sick, twisted individual.
Police officers have an often difficult and dangerous job. Many police officers are heroic in ways large — pulling an injured driver from a burning wreckage about to explode and tackling a suicidal person making a run for a bridge’s parapet — and small — shooting basketball with neighborhood kids (and later getting Shaq to stop by to play) and defusing a conflict with an impromptu dance-off (and performing some pretty nice moves while doing so).
We’ve seen videos of these heroics and heard stories of countless others, including lifesaving actions of our local police officers over the years.
And we firmly believe that most police officers are good, honest, hard-working public servants who perform a difficult job as best as they can humanly possible do.
But we also believe this: Black Americans are sometimes treated differently by police officers than white Americans are. A small percentage of police officers are unnecessarily belligerent and violent and shouldn’t be wearing a badge. The historical treatment of black Americans — including slavery, racism and segregation — still influences our culture.
Yes. You can condemn the murder of police officers, but also question the way a small handful of police officers perform their duties, as well as institutional and cultural concerns about police-public interaction. The two are not contradictory. So where to go from here? Some answers seem simple and reasonable. All police officers should wear body cameras at all times. All police vehicles also should have cameras, both dash cameras and cameras aimed at any prisoner area. Any police vehicles used for transporting prisoners should have “black boxes” allowing investigators to determine how the vehicle was being driven.
Police officers should be better trained on de-escalation tactics, there should be greater use and training of non-lethal force and officers should know that their every action might be videotaped (and that every citizen has the right to record them).
What’s more difficult is officer interaction with armed citizens. Many Americans have concealed carry permits. What are the best practices for those citizens when stopped by police and for police on patrol knowing they may encounter a law-abiding, but armed, citizen?
Even more difficult is coming up with a way to reduce, and hopefully end, violence in our society. Treating others with respect, and as fellow humans, is a good way to start.