Protecting Our Communities

By: Chuck Canterbury

This op-ed was submitted to the Washington Post, but they refused to publish it. Please share it far and wide.

These are complicated, dangerous times for American law enforcement. Each day, police officers pin on badges and strap on bullet proof vests and take to the streets with one simple goal: keeping our communities safe. Yet, lately, these same officers feel less and less safe with each passing shift.

Recent headlines are all too common: police officers are injured and killed from ambush style attacks. But while these ambushes raise a physical threat, rhetorical ambushes by news media with an anti-police agenda are increasing as well.

Dan Berger in his recent Post article entitled, “When White Supremacists strike, police don’t always strike back” is typical of these verbal onslaughts. And while an offensive essay such as this is far different from a criminal assault, it’s still well out of line with fair and responsible commentary.

The piece suggests that modern law enforcers are soft on violence in our communities. His article, however, is a tired re-telling of the past. He seeks to paint all of today’s law enforcement officers with the broad brush of history yet his most recent example took place in 1979 — nearly 40 years ago.

Mr. Berger does manage to finally conclude that “there’s no evidence of police participation” in the violent rally at Charlottesville. That’s big of him.

The police are involved in these conflicts, though. In Dallas, police stood by as protestors injected law enforcement into the struggle. They chanted negative things about law enforcement. They donned gas masks and threw bottles at officers.

Police were first responders on the scene to protect people’s rights and to keep the community safe. Despite Mr. Berger’s implication, police aren’t soft on white supremacists. They do their job under very trying circumstances that can spiral out of control very quickly.

There are other examples, ones that didn’t make Mr. Berger’s history lesson. At the inauguration day protests in Washington, the so-called peaceful protests resulted in two officers being injured. They were trying to keep the community safe.

When protests erupted in Boston, local leaders had to request that protestors cease pelting police with urine filled containers.

The police weren’t engaging the protestors. The protestors were engaging the police.

It’s just plain dangerous and wrong for protestors, counter protestors or anyone else to target police officers. And it’s wrong for the Post to give space to someone seeking to instigate confrontation and violence against police.

Here’s the bottom line: police officers protect protestors and counter-protestors alike, without regard to personal feelings. They’re not there because they agree with white supremacists, but it’s their job to protect their right to assembly and free speech. They’re there because they believe in the rule of law. Police patrol public rallies to protect the constitutional rights of everyone.

Police officers are all too accustomed to the dangers they face each time they go on duty. But that doesn’t excuse an irresponsible ambush attack seeking to make it seem as if police somehow stand with white supremacists.

Here’s a more recent history lesson for Mr. Berger and other police antagonists. The recent violence in Charlottesville wasn’t the first protest there. At a protest last month, a photo of Officer Darius Nash went viral. Why? Because Officer Nash is African-American. He’s pictured on duty, protecting the community. In the background, as the officer stands watch, are a man in a KKK robe, another carrying a Confederate flag, and another doing a Nazi salute.

It’s a sad photograph; a collage of conflict and consternation. Yet this image should give us all hope. Officer Nash saw the photo and made a simple yet eloquent comment: “I swore to protect my city and that’s what I was there to do.”

Thank you, Officer Nash. And no thanks to those who undermine and undercut his good work.

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Chuck Canterbury is President of the National Fraternal Order of Police.