The ambush shooting of two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies last weekend was a terrifying act of senseless violence. And the response to that attack by some idiotic “protesters” – who were shown on video shouting obscenities at police and attempting to block the entrance to a hospital emergency room – was a despicable display of foolish and misplaced hatred.
On those points there should be no disagreement, no matter your stance on the issue of law enforcement in America. We do not yet know whether the L.A. shooting was inspired by the anti-police rhetoric that has marred the national discussion about law enforcement reform; as of press time, no suspect has been captured and no motive has been identified by authorities. Still, for rational, compassionate Americans – a description we hope still applies to the majority of our population – the cowardly shootings of two young deputies (who, as of this writing, are expected to survive) and the needless killing of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer are both equally antithetical to the American ideal.
It should not be too much to ask for all Americans to mourn both tragedies. Yet the frightening reality for our nation is that we instead feel pressure to pick a side. The industry of manufactured ideological division – powered by disingenuous politicians and pundits, and especially by intentionally deceptive internet memes and disinformation – strives to convince us that “only the Democrats” or “only the Republicans” can steady the course. But that’s a fundamentally flawed notion.
The unrest occurring in our country is hardly a strictly right vs. left issue. Many conservatives are sympathetic to the cause of those marching peacefully against systemic racism in law enforcement. Many liberals condemn the lawlessness, looting and destruction that has scarred some cities and casts the social justice movement in a negative light. Yes, there are some bad cops sprinkled throughout an overwhelmingly honorable profession. And yes, there are some buffoonish wrongdoers among the marchers and protesters who seek only to amplify their message in an appropriate way. But the image of neither group should be painted with a broad brush.
There’s a simple truth about humanity: The world is not a black-and-white place, and real solutions are often found only in the gray areas. For those who expose themselves exclusively to information carefully designed to reinforce preexisting notions, those gray areas are uncomfortable places. But our leaders must be strong enough to take us into them before it is too late.
Our nation is crying out for a sober, reasoned response. We’ve had enough incitement and escalation. Going forward, the discussion must acknowledge the complexities at play and quash the influence of ignorance and extremism at both ends of the ideological spectrum.
The path to a better tomorrow is fraught with difficulty. The issues at the heart of the unrest long predate Floyd, or President Donald Trump, or Black Lives Matter. Distrust between certain communities and law enforcement is not new. Acts of pointless, heartbreaking violence between citizens and police officers are not new. Reckless political discourse that intensifies the animosity between police and those they serve is not new.
In many parts of the country – including in Compton, Calif., where the L.A. County deputies were attacked – the relationship between police and the community is far more nuanced than any presidential tweet or protest slogan can fully portray, with decades of local events resulting in unique states of function or dysfunction. That fact alone renders absurd the thought that there will ever be a national, one-size-fits-all “fix” for issues related to local law enforcement.
That’s why Washington’s aim should be to create a political environment that allows localities to address their own situations free from partisan pressure. Similarly, local leaders must prove that they value the sanctity and safety of their streets more than they value the interests of party handlers.
Do we harbor much optimism that this will actually occur? Sadly, no, but we pray that maturity will soon surface. This is a troubling juncture in our American journey, where the intersection of craven politics, rampant disinformation and street-level unrest leaves many anxious and fearful that our nation is a tinderbox.
Our leaders have a clear choice: get serious about working the issue, or continue wallowing in the muck of cheap politics. Their decision could determine whether this moment in history spirals beyond anyone’s control.