We need a path for justice and peace

By the Editorial Board

July 18, 2016 02:20 PM

Millville Police Chaplain Bob Ossler prays and weeps Monday with a local resident at a memorial for three officers killed in Baton Rouge, La. Curtis Compton Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP
Millville Police Chaplain Bob Ossler prays and weeps Monday with a local resident at a memorial for three officers killed in Baton Rouge, La. Curtis Compton Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Whatever the twisted motive of the cop killer in Baton Rouge, it wasn’t any kind of justice. It was cold-blooded murder.

After the three deaths Sunday in Louisiana, the five officers ambushed July 7 in Dallas and the more than 30 officers killed by gunfire this year, you can’t blame law enforcement officers if they fear as much for their own safety as for the public’s.

But as agencies across America review procedures and tactics, it’s critical that they maintain perspective.

We don’t want officers with hair-trigger responses generating more fatal encounters. We also don’t want it to take too long to respond to emergencies.

In Sacramento on Sunday, police went to mandatory two-officer patrols, just as the department did in the days after Dallas. While that might mean slower responses to routine calls, there won’t be delays for 911 calls, a department spokesman said.

What we do need is for everyone – police leaders, activists, politicians – to take a breath, then take concrete actions to bridge the divide between law enforcement and communities to stop this madness.

Some suggest a national summit or a congressional commission to come up with solutions. But normal, friendly, responsible behavior shouldn’t take an act of Congress for police or civilians. We already know some of what must be done.

It means increasing transparency and expediting investigations of police shootings. The Sacramento Bee’s Anita Chabria reported Sunday that local activists are focused on three: Adriene Ludd, shot by sheriff’s deputies in October; Dazion Flenaugh, shot by police in April; and Joseph Mann, killed just last week.

Ending this cycle of senseless violence also means toning down the rhetoric. As President Barack Obama pleaded Sunday, “We need to temper our words and open our hearts.”

Almost immediately, Donald Trump did the exact opposite. “Our country is a divided crime scene, and it will only get worse!” he tweeted.

“Make America Safe Again” was the theme of the first day of the Republican convention Monday in Cleveland. It’s clear that Trump believes his law-and-order rhetoric will help him politically – no matter how it complicates our divisions.

Democrat Hillary Clinton had a more subdued and substantive response. In a speech to the NAACP annual conference in Cincinnati on Monday, Clinton called for reforming the criminal justice system and pointed out that African Americans are disproportionately the victims of fatal police shootings.

That’s true in California. As The Bee’s Phillip Reese documented, 130 people were shot and killed by police last year in the state and more than 1,100 during the past decade, and the death rate for blacks was five times that of whites.

Clinton also condemned the killings of police officers and said the best way to honor them is to follow the lead of police departments that are pushing reforms. “Everyone is safer when there is respect for the law and everyone is respected by the law,” she said.

Just as all lives matter, all words matter. It’s a shame Trump hasn’t figured that out yet.