Politics Magazine

Harris Co. Sheriff Misses The Point Of "Black Lives Matter"

Posted on the 02 September 2015 by Jobsanger
Harris Co. Sheriff Misses The Point Of The chart above is from The Washington Post, and so is the article below (written by Janelle Ross). I agree with every word she has written.
In Harris County, Tex., Sheriff Ron Hickman is in the midst of a difficult time. He's lost one of his deputies to a shooting at a suburban Houston gas station. And while the man arrested in connection with the shooting death of Deputy Darren H. Goforth has yet to provide law enforcement with a motive for his alleged actions, Hickman has provided one for him. "Our assumption is that he [Goforth] was a target because he wore a uniform," Hickman told reporters at a news conference last week."We've heard 'Black Lives Matter,' 'All Lives Matter.' Well, Cops' lives matter, too." The implication -- and it's not a new one -- is this: All this talk about the value of black lives and public questions about the way in which law enforcement officers do their work denigrate the merit of policing and fundamentally imperil or splinter public concern about officers' health and safety. It's an idea that is not only inconsistent with the evidence that we can gather from American political culture, but one that essentially affirms one of the core ideas advanced by Black Lives Matter activists. To Hickman and more than a few law enforcement union leaders and public spokesmen around the country, it seems that in a world in which Black Lives Matter, police lives accordingly do not. That sounds a lot like saying that effective policing and law enforcement where officers feel and remain safe cannot happen unless those same public officials are free to do their work without regard for the civil rights and liberties of people of color in the communities they police. If we follow that logic, then public and prosecutorial questions about the conduct of police -- as well as the still-rare occasions when those inquiries lead to charges and, even more rarely, criminal convictions -- interfere with public and police safety. In Hickman's world, police lives cannot matter if the particular and disproportionate peril that black Americans face when they come in contact with police matters to the rest of us at all. It is a kind of logic that says safety and civil rights sit at opposite poles or are part of a zero-sum equation -- if x matters, then y does not. That not only has never been an idea that Black Lives Matter activists have publicly espoused; it's pretty antithetical to the movement's general push for greater regard for the experiences, injuries and deaths suffered at the hands of police. Existing patterns, these activists argue, suggest that black lives do not matter at all. So they must be spoken for and spoken about with particular fervor. Yes, Hickman used the controversial -- to some, dismissive -- phrase "all lives matter." It is a phrase that other elected officials, candidates and political activists of very different ideological veins have sometimes deployed as verbal irritant. The phrase can be aimed at those who would dare to speak publicly for and about these incidents, failed prosecutions and many, many decisions not to charge or indict the officers involved in questionable injuries and deaths. It is that very pattern that Black Lives Matter activists believe exemplifies the limited and particularly diminished value of black lives. Sometimes, an "all lives matter" declaration is a conscious or unconscious attempt to avoid the ugly truth about the country's ongoing challenges around race and equality. The fact that this is an argument almost exclusively exercised by white Americans should, perhaps, give some of these people pause. For the parents of most children and teens of color, having a conversation about how to try to avoid injury or death when in contact with police feels as necessary as the chats other parents have about wearing one's seat belt and avoiding conversations with strangers. And sometimes, "all lives matter" might come from a principled place that just does not include much regard for the statistics depicted in the police shooting graphic above. And that reality is: Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately killed by police.  Certainly, Hickman might at this moment be in a deeply emotional state. But his is a comment closely connected with the sentiments of officers and in particular law enforcement union representatives in BaltimoreandNew York. At points this year, they engaged ininformal work slowdownsand other types of unofficial work refusal on the grounds that attention to alleged police misconduct made it impossible to do their jobs. Still, calling for equal and legal treatment for all Americans is not equivalent to sanctioning the ambush murder of police. Requiring officers to abide by the laws they help to enforce should not really be regarded as an extra and unnecessary layer of responsibility for public servants. And perhaps most notably, there is little to no evidence that suggests that news coverage of alleged police misconduct is making police work more dangerous. In May, the FBI released preliminary data showing that 51 police officers were killed in the commission of felonies in 2014. That's a marked increase over the previous year, when just 27 officers died the same way. But police killings also hit a 35-year low in 2013. In fact, between 1980 and 2014, an average of 64 officers were killed each year, making that 2014 increase in crimes that led to an officer's death no less sad or monumental for the officers and their families but well within the range of a sad normal in the United States that certainly predates the Black Lives Matter movement. You can look at the FBI data summary here and glean some of the details about the circumstances under which those 51 officers were killed last year. One major takeaway from the preliminary 2014 data: Six officers were killed in premeditated situations where they were ambushed and two during unprovoked attacks that are similar to what officers say happened at that suburban Houston gas station. The previous year, five officers were ambushed and killed, according to the FBI. These aren't the signs of some growing pattern or problem. They are almost singular and certainly terrible events. What we do know is that those who are arrested in connection with officer injuries or deaths are often convicted, face lengthy sentences and even capital punishment when caught. In at least one state, New Hampshire, causing a police officer's death is specifically identified as a death-penalty-eligible crime. The fact that the man who is allegedly responsible for Goforth's death was brought to court to face capital murder charges Monday morning, two days after Goforth's death, would also seem to affirm that officer killings not only matter, but remain a very big deal.

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