By Stephen Owsinski:
To clarify up-front, I am not opposing a viewpoint pertaining to injustices upon any American citizen. Any injustice perpetrated upon any one by any cop for any reason is reprehensible. Thus, the basis of this article is not to debate, oppose or engage anyone who harbors indifference but to query the sole source who decided it was his positional right to, in totality, speak for all who serve in a law enforcement capacity.
In this past weekend’s closing speeches at the annual International Association of Police Chiefs (IACP) conference in San Diego, Terrence Cunningham, president of the IACP, injected a roughly four-minute-long public apology to people of color for law enforcement playing “the face of oppression” role.
The IACP is billed as one of the largest police organizations whose scope represents police initiatives worldwide. Its membership comprises civilians, some bearing neither police authority nor powers of arrest, each contributing particular expertise to facilitate contemporary police practices worldwide.
Attempting to speak for the majority in law enforcement, in his prepared statement, Chief Terrence Cunningham apologized for “the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of people of color.” Again, I support outing and holding responsible those who perpetrate injustices upon people, regardless of their skin tone. However, lumping all who don a badge and duty belt under the umbrella of “our law enforcement profession” is hardly a responsible atonement addressing wrongs created by a fractional amount of bad apples.
Albeit rhetorical, it remains accurate: the scant percentage of bad cops poison the reputation of the vast majority who diligently perform duties in stellar fashion, while color-blindly and devotedly according dignity and Constitutional provisions to all people.
Chief Cunningham’s point is not grossly misguided, only that his word choices earnestly suggest that police-caused travesties empirically involve every police official in America. The unilaterally cavalier blanket statement orated by Chief Cunningham unfairly lumps together and tarnishes all American law enforcement officers. To claim a wrong has been committed and suggest universality in its perpetration is tantamount to reckless disregard for the valiant, life-saving deeds performed by thousands of police officers on a daily basis. Countless citizens comprising every color are not being saved by faces of oppression but by the almost-one-million heroic men and women who vowed to serve. And, they surely do serve, despite the few bad eggs.
Granting benefit of the doubt, maybe Chief Cunningham’s chosen words are semantic; well-intended but somehow misconstrued. Perhaps. Nevertheless, I read and re-read his statement several times and my sentiments have not swayed.
Speaking of sentiments, various reports of a “mixed response” from the IACP conference audience indicate Chief Cunningham’s message culminated in a peppering of applause, a spotty standing ovation, and silence from the rest. Hardly constitutes a consensus. And that, folks, is the point: to speak with a universal voice for many who do not embrace the speaker’s perspective or philosophy is in and of itself mistreatment. Police Lt. Bob Kroll, the president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, intimated the following: “Our profession is under attack right now and what we don’t need is chiefs like him perpetuating that we are all bad guys in law enforcement. I think it’s an asinine statement. We’ve got officers dying on almost a daily basis now because of this environment, and statements like that don’t help.”
What Lt. Kroll alluded to pertains to recent police officer assassinations across the United States. Dallas lost five police officers to one crazed gunman, an assassin hell-bent on destroying police. The list of assassinations of cops is burgeoning, and that is an incontrovertible truth.
Three more murdered cops were eulogized and buried this week. Two of the three officers were shot through a closed door, never even seeing their killer’s face. As Joe Vargas wrote in Behind the Badge (Oct. 19, 2016), “As we grieve the sacrifice of all three of these officers, we should take a moment to reflect on this: These same officers who so willingly stepped in harm’s way and are now recognized as heroes could easily have been the same officers who end up on the evening news at the center of controversy for being involved in a use-of-force incident.”
I concur with Mr. Vargas. Contrary to Chief Cunningham’s claim, these men and woman were definitely not the faces of oppression. In fact, they were its antithesis. If only they could speak for themselves.
Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Contributor and retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer.