Slashing police in wake of violence wrong


June 17, 2020

We are, of course, thankful that the foolishness – and worse – emanating across the nation in the wake of the tragic and deplorable death of George Floyd has, thankfully, not been duplicated in Linn County.

Demonstrations held in Lebanon during the past two weekends have been peaceful, despite the presence of opposing views. Any of us who have witnessed video of what’s occurred in other communities can be grateful.

Part of that is due to the attention to security paid by ... the police. They weren’t overbearing, but they were definitely present.

From our perspective, we get the sense that most local residents here respect the role that law enforcement plays in our society, that it must play if we don’t want to see our own mushroom cloud of anti-social behavior.

They may also recognize that, though there is certainly validity to the perception by many black Americans that they’ve gotten the short end of the stick for more centuries than is comfortable to remember, the torrent of irrational outrage toward those in blue is wildly out of synch with reality.

Irrationality has dictated some unfortunate actions across the land, decisions based on sentiment rather than sense.

- Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler pledged the city will defund three police units including the gun violence reduction team and ban officers from using chokeholds as part of plans to reform the Portland Police Bureau. The city will divert $12 million from the police bureau and other city departments to directly support communities of color.

Certainly, efforts to support communities of color are commendable, and restrictions on chokeholds may not be inappropriate, particularly if their use has been excessive and inappropriate, but the timing of these should make these moves suspect. Making these kinds of decisions in the midst of public outrage is not good policy. Studied decisions do not develop well in the midst of chaos.

- Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero announced via Twitter on June 4 that he planned to discontinue the presence of Portland Police Bureau officers in the city’s largest district.

A few hours later, Mayor Wheeler said he’ll end the school resource officer program, which places armed officers at schools in the Portland Public, David Douglas and Parkrose districts, entirely.

- Berklee College of Music announced last week it was “deeply sorry” for allowing Boston, Mass. police officers to use the school’s restrooms, following the downtown protests on May 31 in the wake of Floyd’s killing.

- The city of San Jose, Calif. adopted new restrictions on rubber bullets.

Floyd’s death was certainly an injustice and one that hopefully will result in appropriate penalties for those who are guilty of crimes. But this tragedy, coming on the heels of one of the most difficult times in recent memory for Americans, who were already upset, fearful and frustrated by the coronavirus experience we’ve all had, has produced a mushroom cloud of folly, at least in the instances noted above and others like them.

Decisions made in the heat of the moment are nearly always regrettable, and these knee-jerk reactions by politicians and those with their index fingers in the air, testing the flow of public opinion, will be too. We have to ask, why were student resource officers in the schools in the first place? And if they caused tension, is eliminating them the way to solve that problem?

But that is Portland’s issue, not ours, thankfully.

This is a difficult topic for everybody, because in no way do we support law enforcement activity that is unjust, toward people of any color. But we also understand that police often walk a fine line, often taking abuse, sometimes in the form of physical violence, from those on whom they enforce the law. At the same time, their job requires them to maintain the balance of professionalism, notwithstanding.

Being human, that sometimes goes awry, though, of course, it cannot be excused.

At the same time, the stampede to right wrongs, real or supposed, by slashing away at the most basic function of government, ensuring order and stability within a society, is imbecilic. If there are problems within a police force that prevent it from fulfilling those responsibilities, they certainly need to be dealt with.

But any of us with an ounce of reason will recognize what happens when police don’t or aren’t allowed to do their job. Look no further than the Minneapolis Uprising, which was spawned when civic leaders tried to “de-escalate” tension by withdrawing police. The result: a burned police station and three days of fires, vandalism and looting.

A similar scenario led to the 1992 Los Angeles riots following the Rodney King verdicts, in which 60 people were killed, thousands injured and more than $1 billion in property damage took place after police were ordered by civic leaders to vacate the area.

Granted, these are extreme examples, but who wants to argue that east Linn County’s population is above all that? Just like the people of Minneapolis and Los Angeles, there are those among us who would take advantage of a diminished police presence – as anyone who has left their garage door open or their car window down may be able to attest.

Just (that’s an adjective) law enforcement is necessary to ensure order and stability for citizens of all colors, origins and faiths.

When officials start interfering with that, caving to public opinion rather than what is fundamentally sound, the outcome may not be the right one.


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