A report released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a group that works to promote law enforcement safety, indicates violence against police is at an all-time high, even though overall violent crimes have significantly declined.
According to the report, fatal police shootings reached a 20-year high in the first half of 2011; 40 officers were killed by gunfire. More than 25 percent of those fatal shootings occurred in January, when 11 officers from around the country were killed. In one deadly 24-hour period in January, 11 officers nationwide were shot; three of them died. If the fatal shootings continue at this rate, shootings will be, for the first time, responsible for the majority of officer deaths.
Looking at these numbers, it would seem that it is open season on law-enforcement officers. Collectively, we have to work together to stop police shootings.
Over the years, we’ve seen a significant number of African-Americans around the country join their law enforcement office, diversifying the force and reducing some of the historical racial tensions between the department and the community. Those law enforcement and community bonds must be further strengthened; police and residents must work together to police neighborhoods. Community policing can help stop crime before it occurs and will lessen the chance that, say, a simple robbery escalates into a police shooting.
Schools, churches and community centers must also pool their resources to develop after school and summer programs that serve at-risk youth and unemployed men and women. The more activities a person is involved in and the more community support they have, the less opportunity they have to commit crime off the streets.
Finally, local governments have to work to reduce gun availability. Whether through buyback programs, reward programs for anonymous tips or some other method, getting illegal guns off the streets has to remain a priority. Doing so will reduce deaths among community members and officers.
In the past, there has been friction between residents and law enforcement, particularly in African-American communities. Harassment by police and racial profiling has led many of us to distrust the officers who are there to protect and serve. This friction, combined with the societal ills—poverty, drug addiction and fatalistic attitudes, among them—so many of our people face, can lead to crime and, sometimes, violent encounters with the police. However, when an officer is attacked or, God forbid, shot, the offender isn’t the only one who suffers. The entire community goes on lock down, with increased police presence; the officers are now on edge and the tension only rises. It’s in all of our best interests to work to ensure officers are kept safe.
(Judge Greg Mathis is vice president of RainbowPUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)