“When did shooting at cops become OK?” asks the controversial San Jose Police Officers’ Association video released for Thanksgiving. If you were looking for respite over your turkey and stuffing, it was enough to unsettle you. It wasn’t quite a family question.
The quick answer is that for the vast majority of us, shooting at cops is never okay. But you can’t understand the POA video — which, in the end, pushes a point of view — without fathoming the outrage of an officer on the receiving end of gunfire, even errant gunfire.
The POA video was the somber and intimidating response to the protests that have erupted after a jumble of cell phone videos have shown cops killing young black men for questionable reasons. The video skirted the hashtag war — yes — but ended by saying that Blue Lives Matter.
As a huge First Amendment booster, I believe the cops have every right to assert their point of view. Those of us who have never put on a uniform or considered the need for a bulletproof vest cannot fully understand their sense of being under assault.
In some ways, though, that’s the problem with the video: It’s designed to express outrage. It doesn’t really change anyone’s mind or bring anyone closer to understanding. The bad guys, sadly, are not going to be dissuaded by the video’s pledge to draw a line in the sand.
“Where is the outrage when police officers are targeted for murder?” asks the video . You could answer that by pointing to Dallas: After five officers were killed there in July, thousands turned out to mourn. President Barack Obama and ex-President George Bush spoke at the memorial.
When San Jose Police Officer Michael Johnson was killed by a sniper on Senter Road in March, 2015, Mayor Sam Liccardo rushed to the scene, calling it “San Jose’s darkest hour.” The mayor understood just what an outrage Johnson’s killing was.
The POA video, to be sure, was making a slightly different rhetorical point: Implicitly pointing to the protests on behalf of victims of police, it was asking why there was no equivalent response when a young shooter fired on two San Jose officers on Nov. 13. “Enough is enough,” said POA President Sgt. Paul Kelly.
The problem here is two-fold: First, there is no easy equivalence between the outrage fueling the Black Lives Matter movement and the quick decision by an alleged gang member to shoot at cops near Independence High School. The political lines here are far muddier than the video would suggest.
Second, the pledge to “draw a line in the sand,” while understandable, suggests a brittleness that does not serve cops well. It offers the haters of police a chance to vilify the men and women on a beat.
Let me offer a different scenario, this time from Dallas: In the days after the killing of five officers in July, two protests clashed near Dallas’ NorthPark Center. One was sponsored by the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The second was a counter-protest of residents waving American and Texas flags.
After the temperatures had cooled, the two sides joined to offer a prayer for their common plight. The peace was brokered by Sgt. Jeff Hall, a 27-year Dallas police veteran who told reporters that he had never seen protests come together like that.
The sergeant deserves our thanks. In that one act, he accomplished far more than a stern video could ever hope to do.
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