Following the deaths of five police officers in a hail of sniper fire in Dallas, the head of the Florida Police Benevolent Association is accusing President Barack Obama and others of demonizing law enforcement.
Florida PBA President John Rivera wastes no time pointing to comments Obama made about the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in Louisiana and Minnesota.
“We have a president, and some celebrity, like Beyonce, who demonize police officers in cases that they know nothing about. And they’re quick to make irresponsible statements which help fuel situations like we’re seeing today.”
But a review of Mr. Obama’s statements suggests something different.
A day before the Dallas shootings, the president said all Americans should be troubled by statistics showing African Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over, and three times more likely than whites to be searched.
In the same press conference, the president quoted from letters he gets from police officers who complain about being demonized.
“And so, to all of law enforcement, I want to be very clear. We know you have a tough job. We mourn those in uniform who are protecting us, who lose their lives.”
After Dallas, Obama called the shootings despicable and asked for the nation’s prayers.
“Even as yesterday, I spoke about our need to be concerned as all Americans, about racial disparities in our criminal justice system, I also said yesterday that our police have an extraordinarily difficult job and the vast majority of them do their job in an outstanding fashion.”
Rivera worries police will be too cowed to use force when it’s necessary. He’s also thinks police are losing the public relations war because they are ordered to withhold comment until all the facts are in.
He wishes more elected officials would do the same.
“Just let the process work. Let justice do its thing and at the end of the day we can all criticize it one way or the other.”
But Senator Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat and a member of the Florida Black Caucus, says the stakes have grown too high, and the court of public opinion too immediate, to wait.
At a time when record numbers of young black men are being sent to prison, often on evidence taken from a surveillance camera, Bullard says it’s hard to ask the same community to withhold judgment on a viral video.
“There’s always this notion that we don’t know the full story yet. And it’s like people have become tired of hearing that when circumstances speak differently. When a 12-year-old kid is in a park shooting a BB gun and within 30 seconds of the arrival on scene, that 12 year old is dead.”
In a sense, Bullard says, Obama had no choice.
“So he could not be silent when you have millions of people viewing a video that essentially equates to the murder of a human being in Baton Rouge and then the circumstances in Minnesota when you have the gentleman literally bleeding out.”
Bullard and Rivera agree on the need for a more thoughtful public discussion.
Bullard says he’s also working with local prosecutors, police and community activists on a Q&A video. He describes it as a kind of do-it-yourself guide to handling police misconduct.
“Like listen, if I have video tape, if I have evidence, if I have a number of eye witnesses that say this circumstance has been happening, what are the steps in the process?”