With just two words, Dallas Police Chief David Brown offered protesters the most concrete solution to their complaints. Time will tell if anyone takes him up on it. At first blush, it doesn’t seem likely.
Rather than, to crib from a quote attributed to Gandhi, “being the change you want to see,” one Black Lives Matter activist called for the abolition of law enforcement. When asked how public order will be kept without men and women in blue, the response was the development of “community solutions for transformative justice.”
Such a call is a high-minded concept that has little application to reality. We have people of all colors dealing drugs in Maine, shooting at each other in Augusta parking lots, and massacring Americans in San Bernardino, Orlando, and Dallas. To respond to these acts, we need good, dedicated officers to step forward and into harm’s way. Officers like Chief Brown.
His personal story is remarkable. In the early 1990s, he had to bury his younger brother who had been shot by drug dealers. In 2010, he buried his son, David Jr. Why? He was killed in a police shootout. Unfortunately, David Jr. had murdered two individuals — one a police officer — while under the influence of drugs.
Chief Brown’s perseverance through these personal tragedies and poise under the pressure of the national spotlight should be an example for many. That holds true regardless of whether or not you agree with him on the use of explosives to eliminate the sniper, concerns about open carry laws, or posting police firings on Facebook.
At a time when a lot of anger is being directed at law enforcement, he reflects the best of his profession. And, as his reform agenda demonstrates, he understands some of the underlying reason for the reaction against law enforcement. The shootings of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana represent this well.
For example, Castile’s driving record — he was pulled over more than three times a year on average since 2002 with most charges dismissed — would likely have raised an eyebrow for the chief; not about Castile, but rather the force. He has made it a priority to reduce traffic stops in Dallas.
When it comes to the use of force, he significantly increased training and oversight, resulting in a significant decrease in police shootings. And he made changes to improve the investigation process to ensure the correct answer was reached on whether such force was justified. If it wasn’t, he held officers accountable. If it was, he said so without hesitation.
We will see if America follows his example once the investigations are complete and the entire stories known. If police over-escalated two situations — one involving an individual with a permit to carry — then the officers should be held accountable. If there are extenuating details not seen in the videos making each a lawful use of force, then protestors should acknowledge they may have been mistaken.
But even if they are mistaken about these two particular instances, the arguments of Black Lives Matter are not misplaced. They may focus on shootings, but concerns about a criminal justice system run amok permeate society.
You hear it when people correctly point out the high incarceration rates of black men, the injustice of mandatory minimum sentences, or complaints about trumped up charges from an overreaching regulatory morass. Those same concerns are what led to the Oregon Militia occupation of federal property back in January, a protest of a different sort.
Whether the Hammonds — the ranchers the Oregon Militia rallied to support — were angels or devils does not matter. The fact is they were charged with laws designed to combat terrorism. Even if their agricultural burns were done with malice against a federal government they had long feuded with, you would be hard pressed to call it terrorism. That sentiment was shared by the prosecuting attorney and the trial judge, with the latter ignoring the mandatory minimum. It took the 9th Circuit to declare the reduced sentence “illegal” and set the protests into motion; they thought it was an unjust result.
This gets back to Chief Brown’s invitation. “We’re hiring” is a call to take direct responsibility for the police force by donning the blue. But it is also a challenge to directly engage with problems you see rather than criticize from afar. The criminal justice system is just one example.
Whether you are part of the Tea Party or an Occupier, Black Lives Matter-er or Militia Member, we need men and women to take personal responsibility for improving things in our towns, states, and nation. We’re hiring. Want the job?