It’s been a crazy week. Police officers shot two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, dead within 36 hours of each other. This immediately ignited an uproar against police in which they were widely condemned across social media. Later the same day, a sniper ambushed white police officers in Dallas, Texas, killing five and injuring seven others with a semi-automatic weapon. He said he wanted to kill white officers, referencing the Black Lives Matter movement.
Regardless of the facts behind the cases of black men killed by police that have been in the media in recent years, we don’t have a police problem. We have a problem with racism in the USA. I do not deny that there are racist police officers who treat black people differently than they do white people, sometimes killing them when it was unwarranted. But there are racist people in every profession and we don’t call racism a systemic problem in other professions.
We lack reliable data on how many black people are killed by white police officers in the USA. Whatever the number is, many of them are warranted because they occur during the commission of a crime while the officer is performing his or her duty according to standard procedures. But we can be confident that there are more black people murdered by white people who are not police officers than are murdered by white police officers. That means we have a racism problem in the USA that goes beyond police work.
Our police officers perform a critical role in our society. They bravely do their duty under the most dangerous circumstances, literally putting their lives on the blue line every day to protect the safety of all the people in their communities. The vast majority of police officers do their jobs with patience and restraint regardless of the color of the people they encounter. If you think racial violence is bad in the USA now, imagine how much worse it would be if there were no police forces enforcing the law.
Unfortunately, calling all police officers racist only exacerbates the racial division among Americans. We need to bring Americans together to fight racism across our society. Yes, that includes fighting racism in police work. But it also includes fighting racism in our schools, in voting, in housing, in government, in religion, and in all work places. Stop pointing the finger of blame for racism at police or gangs or other sectors and recognize that it is prevalent throughout America and needs to be addressed societally. Until we do so, we won’t be able to fight what racism there is in police work effectively.