This was heartbreaking. A vicious, indefensible ambush of police officers in Dallas left five of them dead and seven wounded. Two bystanders were also injured. In a bitter irony, the officers were appropriately and professionally monitoring a demonstration called to protest police shootings of African-Americans in other cities when a sniper opened fire on them.
And the irony had a razor’s cutting edge: As shots were fired, officers on the scene moved to protect the protesters from harm. It was a terrible night in a great American city that is suffering, like the rest of the nation, from long-festering divisions that are suddenly inflamed.
Using a robot armed with an explosive, police killed the sniper after a period of negotiation. Other people have been arrested as possible accomplices. Before the sniper died, he told police that he was angry over recent police shootings of African-Americans and “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said.
Anyone with a beating heart can understand why African-Americans are frustrated and angry. There has been a drumbeat of indefensible police shootings of black people in recent months and years. The mother of one man killed in the past week protested that black people “are being hunted.” You can agree with her or not, but the feeling is real among many African-Americans, and they hold it for a reason.
There is a way to deal with these issues, and it’s through investigation, not murder. Indeed, those investigations are under way.
The vast majority of police officers are decent, honorable men and women. Like Philando Castile whom police shot Wednesday in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn., and Alton Sterling, whom officers shot in Baton Rouge., La., the previous day, cops have families to go home to, as well. They bleed, too.
What is more – as Buffalo residents learned once again this week – police officers risk their lives every time they put on their uniforms. Violence can break out at any moment. In Buffalo, it was a suspected armed robber who shoved a gun into the chest of officer Anthony Fanara and pulled the trigger. The officer lived because the gun’s safety was engaged and because two other officers moved quickly to disarm the suspect. It has to have been a traumatic episode for these men, and it could easily have been worse.
Nor is Buffalo immune to the kind of violence that erupted Thursday night in Dallas. Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said Friday that a number of threats against police officers have been posted on social media following what can only be called the massacre of police in Dallas. It was the worst day for American police officers since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Police are taking those threats seriously, Derenda said, as they should. Officers around Western New York are taking extra precautions while continuing to do their crucial jobs – just as the Dallas cops heroically did when they came under fire.
It would be naïve to expect that there won’t be continuing troubles, from the handful of bad officers, from African-Americans who believe they are being targeted simply for being black and, potentially, from vigilantes who murder in a twisted, misbegotten thirst for revenge.
“There’s not enough rational thought and logical thinking about solutions to the problem between police and the African-American community,” said John V. Elmore, a leading African-American attorney in Western New York and a former New York State trooper. “Violence is the worst answer and is only going to make things worse.”
Elmore blamed socioeconomic divisions for much of the violence, and he is surely right. But other issues are involved, too, including racism and fear. None of those factors will be eliminated quickly, so police and communities need to move now to build bridges where mutual suspicion has curdled relations. That won’t be an easy task, but it is essential.
Police, African-Americans, other minorities and all citizens have a vital stake in healing the divisions that have led to unjustified bloodshed, whether administered or suffered by police officers. The question is, who is willing – today – to begin the work?