No “There” There: Police Deaths And President Obama

“I think one of the big differences then was you had governors and mayors and the president — whether it was President Johnson or President Nixon, Republican or Democrat — condemning violence against the police and urging support for the police.

“Today that’s markedly absent,” [William] Johnson [executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations] continued. “I think that’s a huge difference, and that’s directly led to the climate that allows these attacks to happen.”

Johnson says that Obama has not supported the police or condemned violence against them. – Adam Thorpe, “Law enforcement lobbyist says pro-police speech is ‘markedly absent’ from Obama”, PolitiFact, July 12, 2016


Donald Trump says there has been “a substantial rise in the number of officers killed in the line of duty — a very big rise.” He’s right, to a point. There has been an increase in firearms-related deaths in the last six months compared to a year ago.

But the number of fatalities from all causes, not just firearms, is largely unchanged from a year ago, and has substantially declined in recent years.

Annual fatality data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund show that there have been an average of 135 police fatalities a year under President Obama, from 2009 to 2015, compared with 162 a year for the previous seven years, from 2002 to 2008. That’s a decline of 17 percent. – Eugene Kiely, “Killed In The Line Of Duty”, Politifact, July 13, 2016


These are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.

And I just want to give people a few statistics to try to put in context why emotions are so raw around these issues. According to various studies, not just one, but a wide range of studies that have been carried out over a number of years, African-Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over.

After being pulled over, African-Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year, African-Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites.

African-Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites. African-American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.

So if you add it all up, the African-American and Hispanic population who make up only 30 percent of the general population make up more than half of the incarcerated population. Now, these are facts.

And when incidents like this occur, there’s a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same. And that hurts. And that should trouble all of us.

This is not just a black issue. It’s not just an Hispanic issue. This is an American issue that we should all care about, all fair- minded people should be concerned. – Part of Pres. Barack Obama’s statement on two police-involved killings, Time, July 7, 2016


Yesterday, two police officers put on their uniforms to serve and protect the communities they loved.  And early this morning, they were taken from us in shameful acts of violence.

Sergeant Anthony Beminio and Officer Justin Martin represented our best, most decent instincts as human beings – to serve our neighbors, to put ourselves in harm’s way for someone else.  They knew the dangers of their job.  They knew the risks.  Yet they chose to dedicate themselves to those values anyway.  So today, Michelle and I join Americans across our country in expressing our condolences and stand in solidarity with their grieving families, fellow officers, and the communities they served so honorably. – Statement by the President on the Shooting of Police Officers in Des Moines, Iowa, WhiteHouse.gov, November 2, 2016

Pres. Obama at the memorial service for the police officers murdered in Dallas, TX, Jul 12, 2016

Pres. Obama at the memorial service for the police officers murdered in Dallas, TX, Jul 12, 2016

Sgt. Debra Layton of the Orlando, FL Police Department was shot and killed yesterday while trying to apprehend a suspect in the murder of Sade Dixon. Later that afternoon, while participating in the manhunt, Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Norman Lewis, a motorcycle officer, was struck and killed by an SUV. The people, particularly law enforcement, in and around Orlando and Orange Co. are sad and angry. People around the country are offering condolences even as police continue to hunt the suspect. I think it’s fair to say that this will not end well for the suspect.

This particular situation, as horrible and frightening as it is, has become the latest instance of a political campaign being waged against Pres. Obama by some police officers and police organizations around the country. There are those who believe, and publicly insist, that Pres. Obama has remained silent as police officers are killed in the line of duty; that he is far more quick to speak about police brutality than he is to speak about the deaths of police officers killed in the line of duty; that he has created a climate that is hostile to police officers, encouraging violence against the police.

Is this true? Is it true there’s a  “war on police”, either subtly encouraged or at least not discouraged by our President? Has he remained silent on the deaths of police officers even as there are more deaths than ever?

Let’s start with some raw numbers. According to the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Fund, From 2009-2015 there was an average of 135 police officers killed in the line of duty. While there hasn’t been a definitive total added for 2016, one unofficial number I’ve seen, 140, certainly remains close to the average for Pres. Obama’s tenure in office. It’s easy enough to do this by Presidential Administration: George W. Bush average – 172; Bill Clinton average – 164; Ronald Reagan/ George H. W. Bush – 181. It’s true there was a 40% increase in the deaths of police officers due to gunfire in 2015, looking at the actual numbers, broken down by Presidential Administration (since that seems to be the measure being used by Pres. Obama’s critics), there has been a downward trend over the past 35 years, with Pres. Obama presiding over the least deadly eight years.

Let’s look at the charge made by Police Lobbyist William Johnson that Pres. Obama has remained silent, creating a climate for attacks on police officers to occur. After Rudy Giuliani alleged much the same thing in 2014 after the deaths of two NYC Police Officers, Politifact went back and looked at official statements from Pres. Obama from the August protests over the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO through a Dec. 8 interview with BET, discussing the need for policing in minority communities. Simply put the claim that Pres. Obama was encouraging people to hate police was utter nonsense. Using much the same method – presenting what and when Pres. Obama actually said – they concluded that Johnson, too, like Giuliani two years previously, was “Pants On Fire”, a polite way to say he was full of shit.

So there’s this narrative out there, believed by many including many police officers, that there’s a “War On Police”; that during the years of Pres. Obama’s tenure in office, there’s been a subtle or perhaps not-so-subtle encouragement of violence against police; that Pres. Obama has been far more silent on the deaths of police officers than have previous Presidents, going back to Lyndon Johnson. None of these statements are supported by any evidence whatsoever. Why is the belief persistent?

First of all, Pres. Obama has spoken out against police brutality and the reality of racial disparities in policing that occur nationwide. He has done so even as he has maintained his vocal and active support for police officers, the work they do, and mourned with us during each and every instance of violence against police officers. Because this President sees himself as President of all Americans, he has insisted that there is the need for reform of police procedures, particularly regarding matters of race. This is no more “anti-police” or “cop-hating” than are those prosecutors who bring charges against officers whose flagrant law-breaking disgraces all police. It does not create an atmosphere of hostility toward police officers that our President has recognized the legitimacy of the issues raised by Black Lives Matters, while certainly condemning acts of violence committed by members of BLM and denouncing violent rhetoric by some BLM members. It is, indeed, possible to do both things at the same time, especially when it is clearly understood that Pres. Obama has always understood himself to be President of all Americans – police and the communities they serve included.

It is horrible this young woman was murdered in the line of duty yesterday. Whatever may be justice in this instance, her death is not honored by making of it more fodder for a political agenda promoting a falsehood regarding the President of the United States. I’d ask about shame, but I know that just doesn’t exist anymore.

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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.

Howdy! Thanks for reading. Really. Be nice and remember - I'm like Roz from Monster's Inc. I'm always watching.

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