Here’s a brief outline of a story a law enforcement officer told one of our staff members this week.
Officers were attempting to apprehend a murder suspect in an apartment here in town and believed him to be hiding up a flight of stairs, and armed. The top of the staircase was dark. After five minutes of shouting for the suspect to come out, the man poked his head around the corner, then darted to the top of the staircase, standing there looking down upon his would-be captors.
This particular officer had his gun drawn and aimed, but he couldn’t see the man’s hands. The officer was scared and kept yelling for the suspect to show his hands. His finger began to move against the trigger, but he stopped. He said he remembered hoping if the suspect shot him it would hit his body armor. The officer didn’t pull the trigger because he’s white and the suspect was black and he knew IF he shot this murder suspect and the man was unarmed, his career and possibly the city might spin out of control.
Turns out the suspect had hidden a loaded gun in a child’s room and the officer made the right choice. But it’s hard to imagine we’re at the point where law enforcement officials in life-or-death situations are trying to make decisions filtered through today’s political zeitgeist.
It’s particularly hard to believe anyone could be that restrained given the recent police bloodbaths in Dallas and Baton Rouge, along with random law enforcement killings across the country over the past couple of weeks. To think anyone is willing to take the chance of getting a bullet between the eyes or counting on body armor to let him go home at the end of the day because he is more fearful of the political fallout from shooting a murder suspect who has disobeyed a multitude of commands is positively mind blowing.
Before anyone gets his or her panties in a wad suggesting I would have preferred that the suspect be killed, I’m glad the officer doesn’t have that on his conscience and that the man will have his day in court. But I’m more glad Mobile isn’t the latest city to see a law enforcement officer murdered.
I suppose we can be proud none of our citizens have given in to any impulses or outright encouragements to riot and burn or to attack officers. In the wake of Michael Moore’s shooting last month there have certainly been some — particularly out-of-town agitators and race baiters with no skin in the game here — who have encouraged exactly those things. I have no doubt there is a very small segment of society that relishes the idea of lawlessness and mayhem either because they think it is a legitimate form of protest, or they themselves are lawless and feel they have nothing to lose.
But anyone who believes attacking police or destroying our community will have any positive outcome is sadly mistaken.
The peaceful protests that have taken place locally are a wonderful example of our freedoms as Americans, and even if I might not agree with some of the things being said, it’s impossible not to support citizens exercising their right to publicly assemble and address government.
However, those who advocate killing law enforcement officers — rioting, looting and burning in the name of somehow making a positive change — are only digging their own coffins. No one has ever explained to me how burning neighborhoods and looting stores helps any cause other than getting a free TV or case of beer. As there is more and more violence against police nationwide, you can rest assured there are fewer and fewer people interested in joining police forces.
Just imagine the cream of the crop that will be left — people who think police work is more like going to war. Departments across the country are already seeing interest from new recruits plummet. I’ve seen bad police departments before, full of the rejects no one else wanted, and I can assure even the most ardent cop hater that’s not what you want.
Political people on both sides of this debate locally actually really seem to want the same thing — they just don’t think the other side does. Both sides are worrying about the other’s political agenda and how all of this might affect personal goals and next year’s elections, when the reality is that if racial tensions are this high a year from now it’s hard to imagine the lid won’t already have blown off.
Right now is the exact time to bring the rhetoric down locally. While the group of black politicians and clergy known as the League of Truth and Justice are pushing for answers in Moore’s death and the formation of a citizen’s advisory council regarding MPD, they also need to embrace Chief James Barber and remind their community of the positive changes he’s made. Let the investigation into Moore’s shooting take place and remember the ultimate goal here is not only truth and justice, but also healthy dialogue.
It was good to see Mayor Sandy Stimpson reverse course this week and open negotiations about forming the requested citizens council. Opposing that would serve no purpose other than alienating a large segment of the population. The idea of having members of that council attend the MPD Citizens Academy and also do quarterly ride-alongs with officers can only help improve the dialogue between the department and the people it protects.
A long-serving Mobile police officer I know stated unequivocally the other day that this is the worst time to be a cop he’s ever experienced. He recalled another officer simply telling him, “Our job sucks,” and told stories of routinely being verbally abused by the very people he’s sworn to protect and serve while doing his job.
Let’s hope Mobile can continue to be different from other places in this country and that we can think and react to external and internal pressures in a way far more constructive than what happened in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Ferguson or Baltimore.
Right now everyone — be it someone from the mayor’s office, City Council, MPD, the clergy or just a Facebook troll — needs to think about what he or she is adding to the public debate before speaking out or acting.
If someone who actually could be facing a bullet can keep from pulling the trigger, maybe the rest of us should display a little restraint as well.