Remember the halcyon days of 2009, when the country was embroiled in the first racial controversy of the brand new Obama presidency? You know, when the Cambridge, Massachusetts police thought that the world-renowned Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested for essentially breaking into his own house because the front door was stuck?
Those were the good old days when it was possible to accuse the president of playing the race card (as if racism was ever a gentlemanly card game), when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 still had some teeth, and when accusing the policeman of “acting stupidly” made Obama the butt of jokes and the target of righteous anger because he didn’t support law enforcement. The best thing we can say about that epsiode?
At least nobody was shot dead.
Little did the country know that the innocuous “Beer Summit” would be the last time that civility entered the conversation. Conservatives, and even a few liberals, thought that Obama had breached the wall of silence too quickly in his term. That he had to tread lightly and be careful because as the nation’s first African-American president, he had to stay above the fray and not remind polite society that we have a bit of a complicated history when it comes to race. And guns. And law enforcement behavior. Seems quaint, yes?
I believe that police officers, perhaps more than any other public service job, have the most difficult environment in which to work. The police have to be correct almost 100% of the time. I support effective, proactive, respectful, sometimes forceful police work. Recent events have shown, however, that many police officers, and the criminal justice systems in towns and cities across this country, have not been held accountable for their actions or have lied about what’s actually happened at traffic stops and crime scenes. This must stop.
I’m hoping that the Republican candidates in this week’s debates will address the issue and that we’ll hear more from the Democrats as well. But this needs to be done rather quickly because the real issue is trust. Right now, that level is dangerously low.