Spe­cial priv­i­leges for a spe­cial job

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ruben Navarette Jr.

SAN DIEGO — Dal­las Po­lice Chief David Brown spoke vol­umes when he said re­cently that Amer­i­cans ex­pect po­lice of­fi­cers to do too much, pro­vide too many ser­vices and serve too many func­tions.

Yet the prob­lem is big­ger than that. Many peo­ple also have un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions about what is re­quired for po­lice of­fi­cers to do their jobs.

Take, for in­stance, the fact that — in the af­ter­math of a se­ries of po­lice shoot­ings of African-Amer­i­can men by po­lice of­fi­cers — some Amer­i­cans seem both­ered that po­lice are armed at all.

At a re­cent protest in Ba­ton Rouge, a young woman screamed at the of­fi­cers stand­ing in front of her in riot gear: “You’re the only ones here with guns. Put your guns down, and then we can talk.”

Oh please. Where do they find these peo­ple? A gun is a tool po­lice of­fi­cers need to do their job — just like a doc­tor needs a scalpel, a fire­fighter needs a hose, a banker needs a spread­sheet.

It’s been said that po­lice of­ten en­counter peo­ple at their worst. And even at their best, hu­man be­ings don’t al­ways act ra­tio­nally. So po­lice learn to ex­pect the un­ex­pected.

For ex­am­ple, one of the most dan­ger­ous calls that any cop can get is a re­port of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, where a fe­male vic­tim might, one minute, shout ex­ple­tives at her hus­band and, the next minute, fight of­fi­cers who try to ar­rest him.

But there is an­other way to look at what that pro­tester in Ba­ton Rouge said about how po­lice should lay down their firearms. It’s about the larger no­tion of equal­ity. Some peo­ple mis­tak­enly as­sume that when Thomas Jef­fer­son wrote that “all men are cre­ated equal,” he meant that we should all be given the same priv­i­leges.

The way the ac­tivist saw it, there was an in­her­ent un­fair­ness in the fact that po­lice were armed and the pro­test­ers weren’t. It didn’t mat­ter to her that po­lice of­fi­cers go through spe­cial train­ing on how to prop­erly han­dle weapons, or that they swear an oath to pro­tect the pub­lic and might need a firearm to up­hold it, or that a gun could come in handy if they had to de­fend their lives or those of oth­ers.

As Amer­i­cans, what are we sup­posed to do when our need for pub­lic safety con­flicts with our as­sump­tions about equal­ity?

As the five Dal­las po­lice of­fi­cers who died in an am­bush re­cently are memo­ri­al­ized and laid to rest, that’s where we have ar­rived. Some anti-po­lice vi­o­lence ac­tivists on the rad­i­cal fringe want po­lice de­part­ments dis­banded al­to­gether, while oth­ers would be con­tent if po­lice were sim­ply dis­armed and placed at the mercy of vi­o­lent crim­i­nals who would still have ac­cess to deadly weapons.

This per­verted no­tion of equal­ity even car­ries over to how we’re sup­posed to talk about the vic­tims of street vi­o­lence. Here, the po­lice re­form ac­tivists and their lib­eral ad­vo­cates in the me­dia have painted them­selves into a cor­ner.

On the one hand, main­tain­ing that all lives are equally pre­cious, they in­sist that Amer­i­cans should mourn not just the dead of­fi­cers in Dal­las but also the var­i­ous vic­tims of po­lice vi­o­lence.

New York Times colum­nist Frank Bruni re­cently wrote that Pres­i­dent Obama had gone to Dal­las in an at­tempt to calm “a na­tion reel­ing from [the of­fi­cers’] deaths and the ones just be­fore­hand of Al­ton Ster­ling in Louisiana and Phi­lando Castile in Min­nesota.”

Does any­one be­lieve that most Amer­i­cans would equate the mur­der­ous am­bush in Dal­las — which re­sulted in five po­lice of­fi­cers tar­geted and killed, seven other of­fi­cers wounded, and a ma­jor city par­a­lyzed for sev­eral hours — with the un­for­tu­nate deaths of two in­di­vid­u­als dur­ing en­coun­ters with po­lice?

But on the other hand, the re­form ad­vo­cates push back against the sug­ges­tion that they should be more con­cerned about black-on-black crime be­cause, they claim, there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween some­one meet­ing his demise at the hands of a fel­low cit­i­zen and that person be­ing killed by an agency of the state — i.e. the po­lice.

They can’t have it both ways. Are the po­lice just like ev­ery­one else, or aren’t they?

Here’s the an­swer: They aren’t. When some­one kills a po­lice of­fi­cer, it’s a blow against civ­i­liza­tion. Af­ter all, if some­one were to kill enough of them, the re­sult would be chaos and the end of so­ci­ety.

Ruben Navarette Jr. is a syn­di­cated colum­nist from the Wash­ing­ton Post. His email is reuben@ruben­navarette.com.

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