‘Respect through reciprocation’

Calling for an institutional attitude adjustment in law enforcement agencies nationwide

The author is a former part-time firefighter/EMT who lives in Chico.

On a recent Tuesday night, a young black man was killed by a police officer in Baton Rouge, La. The following night, a young black man was killed by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minn. Had it not been for live social media memorialization of these killings, news of neither would have reached above the level of background noise. Certainly, flags would not be lowered to half-staff in their memory.

On the third night, all hell broke loose in downtown Dallas. A third young black man, an Army veteran, angry and possibly mentally disturbed, felt moved to make a statement about the treatment of young black men by law enforcement. His method was to target law enforcement, especially white officers. He killed five officers, injured seven others and was eventually killed by the police. Immediately, flags were ordered to half-staff for the fallen officers.

All of this begs the question: How do you measure the value of a human life? Is the life of a police officer more valuable than the life of a young black man? If both the police officer is armed and the black man is armed, does the equation change? What if you add in the factor that the black man is simply “acting suspicious”?

The killer in Dallas told officers during a standoff that he was “upset about Black Lives Matter.”

I believe that black lives matter. I also believe that concept is not universally accepted among American law enforcement. The fact is, the lives of people of color are respected less than those of white people. In Los Angeles County, the former sheriff is awaiting a prison sentence and, last month, the undersheriff was sentenced to five years in prison. Brutality and racial discrimination of jail inmates was the central issue.

Law enforcement must undergo a massive institutional attitude adjustment all across the nation. Respect cannot be demanded with the display of a badge and a weapon. Respect can only be earned through reciprocation.