Let me begin with full disclosure: In my day job, I work as a public relations consultant. Among my clients are various public safety organizations.
Thus, I earn a living in part by representing police officers. Having said that, no law enforcement organization has paid me to write this piece, nor is a single cop aware I am doing so.
I’m writing this piece not for money but because I believe there’s something that needs to be said amid the anti-police feeding frenzy occupying America of late.
It is entirely possible to support police, to respect police officers, and to believe that the killing of George Floyd was an evil, unacceptable act—murder in broad daylight.
It is equally possible to disagree with the prevailing narrative that policing suffers from systemic racism and that killings like the tragedy that befell George Floyd—an unarmed black man—happen every day.
Thank God, such cases are very much the exception, not the rule.
Since 2015, the Washington Post has logged every fatal shooting committed by a police officer in the line of duty across the country.
American cops have killed 5,367 people while on duty during that time. Of those killings, 2,416 involved white people; 1,265 killings took the lives of black people. Another 889 of the dead were listed as Hispanic.
Of the 5,367 people killed by police officers in the line of duty, do you know how many were unarmed? A total of 321.
I fully realize that this data is imperfect. It doesn’t include George Floyd, for example, because he was not shot to death. And yes, it’s easy to twist statistics to say what you want them to say.
Still, I believe my point holds: American police officers do not as a general rule execute unarmed civilians—an accusation I’ve read and heard repeatedly in media soundbites and social media messages over the last week.
Are there bad cops? Sadly, yes. Police officers like Derek Chauvin, George Floyd’s accused killer, should be fired, prosecuted and punished.
As a nation, we must continue to draw a bright line between lawful and criminal conduct and we must punish those who cross that line, from the worst transgressors, like Chauvin, to those who riot and loot under the guise of protest.
Let me be clear: In no way am I here to exempt policing from criticism. Many police chiefs, police leaders and street cops have real blind spots when it comes to how they’re perceived and the ramifications of their actions in the communities they serve.
The crisis in policing is real, even if the narrative that every cop is racist is false.
We’ve all heard talk of late that we need to have “a community conversation” about race, bigotry and law enforcement.
Candid dialogue and engaged listening will play a huge role in whatever comes next for public safety and rebuilding relationships that have been decimated by George Floyd’s killing and its aftermath.
But in my experience, dialogues inevitably fail if those involved can’t agree on basic facts. The stereotype that every cop, most cops or many cops begin their shifts on the hunt for easy prey and people of color is not borne out by the facts.
I’ll say it again: There are bad cops. Yes, one bad cop is too many, just as 958 police officers killed in the line of duty since 2015 is 958 too many.
Among us in every area of life are evil humans, including those who kill with impunity. But not many of them wear a badge while toiling at one of this country’s most difficult and most misunderstood jobs.