Political correctness has never been one of my stellar attributes, so apologies to those who I offend with my words. I’m writing this column on Sept. 11, the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in 2001, and I’m angry. Thousands died including hundreds of courageous and dedicated police officers, some when the World Trade Center collapsed and many later from 9/11 related illnesses. I don’t remember their names.
Here are names from more recent events; Tamarris Bohannon, Natalie Corona, Ronil Singh, Chateri Payne and Damon Gutzwiller. As their names suggest, they have diverse ethnic backgrounds, but they also have something in common. They were all good police officers who were recently gunned down in ambush-like killings, simply because they were police officers. They represent a small sampling of those recently killed in the line of duty.
Officer Tamarris Bohannon, 29 years old, left behind a wife to raise three children, all under the age of 10. Officer Natalie Corona was a 22-year-old rookie. Officer Ronil Singh, 33 years old, was allegedly killed by an illegal immigrant who was then handcuffed by Singh’s fellow officers, using the cuffs that Ronil Singh had carried. Officer Chateri Payne was a rookie cop and mother. Officer Damon Gutzwiller who at 38 years old was the most experienced of the group, was father to a young child, and husband of the expectant wife he left behind.
There are too many fallen officers to remember names. But I will remember George Floyd who was honored with a nationally televised funeral with a 500-person guest list that included prominent politicians, celebrities and political activists. His death while in police custody was inexcusable, but it’s grossly inexcusable when thousands of citizens nationwide use Floyd’s death as an excuse to riot and plunder. It’s inexcusable for national, state or local leaders to cite “systemic racism”, as if to excuse those who burn down businesses and destroy other peoples’ lives. And it’s disappointing when political opportunists and activists, with assistance from the national news media, turn a funeral into a four-hour political rally, featuring the ever-present Al Sharpton and a recorded message from a presidential candidate. I expect some of the fallen officers were denied public funerals because of COVID-19.
It has been reported that COVID-19 is the leading cause of death in 2020 for active police officers. Social distancing doesn’t work when your job requires dealing with unruly rioting mobs, or you’re spit upon because you’re an officer in blue. “Social Justice” and “Peace” make great slogans, but justice is not served when mobs are permitted to take over the streets and intimidate judges, jurists and politicians. Peace will not be achieved when political leaders hesitate to enforce the law, or when a city’s leader orders the police to stand down while rioters burn their precinct to the ground.
Our constitution guarantees the right of protest, but it’s not peaceful protest to shout hateful slogans directed at police officers. It’s an act of hate that incites others to turn their anger into destruction. Marching on a freeway while shouting “pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” is not peaceful protest.
In the summer of 1956, at the end of my junior year in college, I hitchhiked from northern Indiana to Florida and back. This was before passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. What I saw for the first time in my life as I hitchhiked alone through four days and nights, was the ugliness of racism. It was appalling and frightening, and a life lesson for me. I grieve for those who have felt the sting of racism and particularly for those who have lost a family member to a hate group, but I also grieve for the families of police officers who have been killed while simply trying to do their jobs. The beating of the drums about police brutality and police reform is slowly but surely destroying our police departments, driving good officers away and destroying the morale of those who remain.
If/when our nation suffers another mass attack, it won’t be political opportunists or editorial writers rushing in to save others. It will be officers in blue, the same first responders who have become the punching bags for political activists and far too often, the national news media. If it’s ever my family in peril, I hope the first one on the scene is a Prior Lake officer, sheriff’s deputy or a member of the Minnesota highway patrol.