Putting on a blue uniform has seldom been this hard. Thugs and killers have always despised the men and women who keep the peace, but now their bosses often no longer have their backs. When the badge is bent out of shape to suit the times, civility slides toward the ragged edge of barbarism.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced a plan earlier this month to collect data on incidents between law enforcers and civilians, particularly shootings by police officers, whether fatal or non-fatal, as well as deaths of suspects in custody. “Accurate and comprehensive data on the use of force by law enforcement is essential to an informed and productive discussion about community-police relations,” Ms. Lynch said.
Cooperation between residents and cops is indeed a key to preventing an us-versus-them attitude from growing on both sides of the badge. President Obama has spent his presidency fanning the flames of distrust, even hosting at the White House members of Black Lives Matter, the radical organization that erupts in mindless protest whenever a black American is shot by cops, regardless of the circumstances. The president has met 47 times with Democratic operative Robert Creamer, who is accused of organizing violent confrontations at rallies for Donald Trump, the Republican candidate.
Collecting data on shootings and similar incidents puts cops under a magnifying glass. By The Washington Post’s reckoning, 783 persons have been fatally shot by police in 2016: 190 black, 126 Hispanic, 366 white, and 101 labeled other or unknown. While specific causes for the incidents are not recorded, 423 of the subjects were armed with a gun and 136 carried a knife.
Frequently overlooked amid the activist-generated outcry against the nation’s law enforcers is the fact that the number of cops fatally shot by assailants is increasing. Already this year, 46 police officers have been killed, a 53 percent increase over 2015, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. Most prominent was the July ambush of Dallas cops in which an Army reservist angered by a police shooting killed five officers and wounded nine.
Occasionally an officer chooses to suffer a beating at the hands of a suspect rather than use a gun in self-defense. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson tells of a 28-year-old female officer whose head was pounded against the pavement by a motorist high on the drug PCP: “As I was at the hospital … visiting with her,” the chief said, “she looked at me and said she thought she was going to die and she knew that she should shoot this guy but she chose not to because she didn’t want her family or the department to have to go through the scrutiny the next day on the national news.”
One unjustified citizen or officer death is one too many. In the spirit of reconciliation, Terrence Cunningham, president of the nation’s largest organization of police chiefs, offered an apology last week for the “historical mistreatment” of minorities. His gesture should be healing balm to emotionally inflamed communities. It is unlikely, though, to reform the thugs who believe they, not the police, own the streets.
At last count Mr. Obama’s adopted hometown of Chicago has already suffered 3,560 shootings this year, 614 of them fatal. While the Justice Department focuses on police shootings, the civilian-vs.-civilian carnage is a figure that neither president nor the attorney general are anxious to tally. They wouldn’t like what they would see.