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Monday, July 11, 2016

Obama's Comments About Dallas Anger Fraternal Order of Police: Chief Ware Weighs In



The Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union, is criticizing President Obama for his response to the fatal shooting of five police officers in Dallas.

“We’d like to see the president make one speech that speaks to everybody instead of one speech that speaks to black people as they grieve and one speech that speaks to police officers as they grieve,” said Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 330,000 officers. “We don’t need two presidents, we only need one. We need one who works to unify the United States.”

Pasco said the union is looking for stronger voices of support for law enforcement within the administration and elsewhere.

President Obama had addressed two recent police shootings of black men, calling them tragedies that pointed to entrenched racial disparities in the criminal justice system. “When incidents like this occur, there is a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same,” Obama said, adding that he had respect and appreciation for the “vast majority” of police officers who protect Americans every day.

Friday morning, hours after the shooting of police in Dallas, Obama called the shootings a “vicious, calculated, despicable attack” and vowed “justice will be done.” “There is no possible justification for these kinds of attacks or any violence against law enforcement,” he said, adding that the police community feels the loss of the Texas officers to its core.

The President had also attempted to ease tension between police and minority communities, saying, “When people say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ they don’t mean blue lives don’t.”

(Liz Goodwin. “Police union criticizes Obama shooting response, calls for hate crime investigation.” Yahoo News. July 08, 2016.)

And, on the local scene, the Daily Times reported Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware was disheartened by the president's comments, calling them another “destruction of the foundation” for “blaming race for the actions of others.”

Reporter Frank Lewis said Ware spoke of the divisiveness that exists in the United States ...

“I went to sleep shortly after listening to the comments of the President of the United States. I went to bed disheartened that yet again, people in positions of leadership in this great nation, people whose words influence so many others actions, emotions, and beliefs, missed an opportunity; an opportunity to build a nation, not divide, to wait until the facts come out, not immediately place blame, and an opportunity to address the real social problems facing our communities.

“We should be looking at the social ills that negatively impact young African American males and give them cause to carry guns or commit crimes. For it is these problems that increase poverty, drug abuse, mental health problems, and lead to the need for police enforcement in the first place; enforcement that often creates anger and animosity towards police in minority communities, communities that need our protection the most."

Ware said it is that anger and animosity that appears to have been the motivation for the attack on Dallas area law enforcement officers he says were protecting the First Amendment rights of citizens to draw attention to the very social concerns that are leading to the worst racial divide in this country since the 1960s.

(Frank Lewis. “Ware on police-involved shootings.” Portsmouth Daily Times. July 11, 2016.)

I do not agree with the criticism of President Obama. I cannot understand how he “missed an opportunity to build a nation.” Nor can I see how he did anything that added to “dividing the country” or addressing “real social problems.” In fact, I believe Obama spoke openly and honestly while showing great concern for all Americans. Also, he made it very clear that he is against all violent attacks on enforcement. Why did his comments anger the police community?

I guess the police stance rejects the fact that the Afro-American community and the police have a long history of being at odds over equal treatment. The protests have not been about single incidents of one black man getting killed by one (white) police officer. They are about institutional racism in the United States, and about the excessive use of police force. To deny that such conditions exist is clearly ignoring “real social problems” – problems that negatively affect the minority communities every day.

I think Chief Ware is correct in his assessment that America is undergoing the “worst racial divide since the 1960s,” but to suggest President Obama is leading a charge to separate minorities from the majority is simply unfounded and grounded in an unwarranted fear that is promoted by some very biased individuals. Imagine the perspective afforded by the president: in his expression, Obama offers insights into a very serious problem.

As far as First Amendment rights, peaceful protest and assembly have a long history as basic freedoms afforded to those who suffer discrimination of any kind. Of course, the most contested protests are those that question authority of trusted officials. 

In expressing their own displeasure with President Obama's comments on the shootings, the Fraternal Order of Police is exercising their own First Amendment rights to freedom of speech critical to the government. Americans must be allowed to possess all of these freedoms -- speech, protest, assembly -- while public servants like the police are sworn to protect all people, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, creed, or political affiliation. A certain divide has always existed between the public and law enforcement, and both sides can be faulted for this lack of cooperation. To acknowledge the split is the first step in identifying possible problems and solutions.

As authorities point at “African American males carrying guns and committing crimes,” they must realize that gun violence – by all races and persuasions – rages everywhere in the United States. Sometimes politicians point out the horrible gun death toll in black gang areas and ignore the reality that firearms are the instruments increasingly used to carry out crimes and murders everywhere.

The “poverty, drug abuse, and mental health problems” inherent in these environments are not only causes of the proliferation of guns but these things are also products of a way of life that proliferates violence and turns peaceful neighborhoods into war zones. Until gun lobbies, gun manufacturers, enforcement, health officials, and politicians work together to eradicate the roots of violence in the United States, animosity will continue, gun ownership will soar, and people will question whose lives really do matter.

I believe there is a great need for a debate about the use of excessive police force. And, I also believe there is a similar need for a debate about needless animosity toward the police. It is evident a president who acknowledges both of these needs is reacting to the realities that confront his administration.

President Obama is too often the target of political opponents who care much more about discrediting the man than about finding compromise and solution. To be fair, many abhor him for seemingly every stance he takes. Instead, I believe many should examine their own predilections toward prejudice.

Structural racism and social stratification are problems we must face. We all know that. I think President Obama is not making two speeches in the wake of the police shootings in Dallas. In my mind, he is doing his best to unify the country with his acknowledgment of the fact that all lives matter in equal degrees.

To say President Obama is “two presidents” is to attack his character as a single leader capable of defending innocent black lives while defending law enforcement. It is also an effort to say that he is a black president and somehow that makes him an uncaring leader incapable of grieving for the majority. Those who look for a “stronger voice” in his delicate comments may be using a tragedy to promote political agendas. To me, this is regrettable and very sad. How can a person build bridges when opponents constantly throw obstacles in his way?

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