Even on the best of days, law enforcement officers have a dangerous job. The most mundane of calls can turn quickly into violent confrontations, and officers routinely find themselves confronted by individuals who will take drastic measures to avoid going to jail.
Lately, prominent voices and social movements have exacerbated the danger significantly by using superheated rhetoric to spread completely dishonest narratives about police officers posing a threat to minorities.
If you listen to famous athletes such as LeBron James, police officers roam the country actively hunting down and summarily executing black men.
If you listen to pundits such as ESPN commentator Mark Jones, cops who have spent decades faithfully providing security at athletic events are liable to just turn around and shoot black fans, coaches, or players for no reason whatsoever.
If you listen to prominent activists such as Nikole Hannah-Jones or Patrisse Cullors, rioting and looting are appropriate tactics to combat the oppressive thumb of routine “state terror” against Americans of color.
If you so much as browse the Black Lives Matter website, you find that black people are “systematically targeted for demise” by “deadly oppression.” You are inundated with militaristic calls to “fight,” “liberate,” and “eradicate.”
This apocalyptic vision of 21st-century life in America for black Americans is complete fiction. Worse than being merely inaccurate, this rhetoric is dangerous and clearly contributing to the most recent horrifying spate of violent attacks on police officers.
In the last several months, far too many law enforcement officers have been targeted for violence in ambush-style attacks.
In Camden, New Jersey, investigators are looking for leads after someone fired 10 rounds at the home of husband-and-wife police officers, endangering not just their lives but the life of their 10-day-old child. This was, unfortunately, not an outlier example of activists following officers to their homes for targeted attacks.
Last week, a man shot and wounded two Louisville police officers during a demonstration condemning a grand jury’s decision to indict only one of three other officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s shooting death.
In Prince George’s County, Maryland, as least two men ambushed and shot three officers almost immediately after they arrived to respond to a home invasion call. Two of the officers were saved by their bulletproof vests; the third was treated for a gunshot wound to the foot.
Perhaps the most discouraging of these attacks, however, occurred in Compton, California, where an armed man with a handgun approached two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies as they sat in a patrol car and opened fire at point-blank range. Thankfully, both survived despite being wounded.
Just as grotesque as the attack itself were some of the downright reprehensible responses. One bystander, who among others, took a video of himself in the immediate aftermath, laughing and celebrating how these two cops “got aired out.”
After the deputies were taken to a nearby hospital, dozens of protesters blocked the emergency room entrance and shouted, “We hope they die.”
These horrific ambush attacks do not even begin to cover the surreal number of other, less lethal but still violent attacks against police officers this summer.
Just days after the horrific attack in Compton, a gunman in Suffolk, Virginia, fired at a marked patrol car three times as it drove down a residential street. Fortunately, the officer was not injured.
On a single day in July, protesters injured 49 Chicago police officers, pelting them with rocks, frozen water bottles, and fireworks. Eighteen officers were hospitalized for their injuries, which included a broken eye socket, a broken kneecap, and eye injuries from “an incendiary device.”
These types of violent attacks on officers are not unique to Chicago. Over the course of two weeks of protests during the summer, nearly 400 New York City Police Department officers were injured by protesters. In Seattle, protesters injured 59 officers in a single afternoon, including one who “suffered a leg injury caused by an explosive device.”
In Las Vegas, a man shot Officer Shay Mikalonis in the face during a protest over the death days before of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Mikalonis remains paralyzed from the neck down.
In Gwinnett County, Georgia, three protesters followed police officers to their homes and threw Molotov cocktails at their cars.
These attacks and the heartless responses to them are shocking in their cruelty. But they’re also sadly unsurprising given the lies, rhetoric, and one-sided narratives routinely put forward by liberal politicians and celebrities.
As professor Nathan Kalmoe of Louisiana State University found in two experiments, this sort of rhetoric increases support for political violence and contributes to what psychologists call “moral disengagement. This is the process by which someone can convince himself that he is good even when he does evil by, for example, trying to kill police officers who he believes are trying to systematically kill black people.
The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers are normal men and women who genuinely desire to serve and protect their communities. Much of the recent rhetoric dehumanizes and puts a target on the backs of hundreds of thousands of police officers who routinely act professionally.
And yet people such as Joshua Clover, a professor at University of California, Davis, tell the nation that “[p]eople think cops need to be reformed. They need to be killed.”
This rhetoric has to stop.
Americans on both sides of the aisle can support reasonable reforms to policing. But as long as the rhetoric remains full of lies and lava, these reforms will be impossible.