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U.S. CONGRESSMAN BILL JOHNSON Proudly Representing Eastern and Southeastern Ohio

Opinion Pieces

Respect America’s police

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Marietta, April 25, 2016 | comments
There are very few professions that demand the willingness to sacrifice one's own life in order to protect the safety and security of others.
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Marietta Times
Published April 25, 2016


There are very few professions that demand the willingness to sacrifice one's own life in order to protect the safety and security of others. The brave men and women of our Armed Forces sent into combat certainly understand this sacrifice. Firefighters who rush into burning buildings as others run away to safety also know this. Police officers understand and accept this sacrifice as well. They kiss their loved ones goodbye before each shift, believing they will return home, but knowing their charge- protecting the law-abiding from the lawless - may prevent their safe return.

Since the first recorded police death in 1791, more than 20,000 police officers have been killed in the line of duty. In 2014, FBI statistics indicate over one million violent crimes were committed in America. Being a police officer today is a noble, selfless - and very dangerous - profession.

There is no more important responsibility than preserving the rule of law in a democracy...our Constitution is founded upon that premise. But recently in America - a nation bound by laws approved by citizen legislatures, and justice decided by juries of our fellow Americans - we've seen a deeply troubling trend toward condoning violence.

Last year, we saw part of Baltimore burn down in response to the death of Freddie Gray - a 25 year-old African American who had been arrested upwards of 20 times - who died while in police custody. His death was tragic, and it should never have happened. Riots erupted shortly after his death with the rioters throwing bricks and bottles at police, burning down businesses, and setting cars on fire. The mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, famously said, "we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well." And destroy they did. According to published reports following the riots, more than 20 police officers were injured, 300 businesses were destroyed, 150 vehicles were burned, and looting was widespread. The resulting damage was in the millions of dollars.

This kind of lawlessness has no place in America; rather, it's something we are used to seeing taking place in a third-world country. Trying to justify that kind of violence, and the destruction of personal property, is a dangerous precedent to set. I'm concerned that we are moving down that path; and, the Baltimore riots aren't unique.

The vast majority of us don't live in a world where we have to make life and death decisions in split seconds. Most of us also don't live in a world where much of what we do is recorded by a dashboard camera, or on-lookers' cell phones - both of which typically record the adrenaline-fueled, and sometimes chaotic, conclusion to a crime. Rarely do we see the crime itself, and there is often little or no context to police actions in apprehending the criminals.

A recent study conducted by the Washington Post found that of the 985 people fatally shot by police nationwide during 2015, "the great majority were wielding weapons, suicidal or mentally troubled, or they ran when officers told them to halt."

Yet, rather than examining the flaws that exist in our culture that lead to criminal behavior and violent crime, we've seen a recent spike in specific attacks on police officers - solely based on the uniform they wear. It's been jarring to witness this growing hostility toward those who serve our communities. In fact, law enforcement is the sole civilian profession where its members are assaulted - and worse - for performing their jobs.

As a nation governed by the rule of law, it is critically important that those enforcing our laws are respected. It's also important that we have faith in our justice system - a system that while not perfect, is made up of our fellow Americans. On a commercial airliner, we are instructed to comply with the instructions of the flight crew, or we can be removed from the aircraft. Yet, today, it has become increasingly acceptable to choose which instructions from law enforcement we wish to comply with, and which ones to ignore.

But, those who enforce our laws must also be held accountable. As American citizens, and taxpayers, we have the right to hold our police officers to the highest standards - standards that must exist for all of our public officials and employees. We should expect police officers who act inappropriately to be disciplined, and for the truly bad ones to be fired and face the same standard of justice they were hired to enforce on the people they serve.

We must remember that police officers often see the worst that humanity offers. They often work along the jagged line between civilized society and depravity, between order and mayhem - protecting our society from those who, for whatever reason, wish to inflict harm on their fellow citizens. It's a dangerous, difficult, thankless job. As Americans, we must find a way to heal our national wounds and resolve our differences in a way that does not lead to violence. And, we need to respect those that put their lives on the line everyday to protect us from the few among us who feel differently.

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