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Another Voice: How do we pick our political punching bags?

By Richard Ullman

At the recent memorial service in Dallas, President Obama used the bully pulpit to stress that “the overwhelming majority of police officers do an incredibly hard and dangerous job fairly and professionally. They are deserving of our respect and not our scorn.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump declared: “We love our police,” and that they “are the most mistreated people in America.” 

These congruous statements – from public figures who agree on very little – reflect the extent to which mainstream public opinion generally affords police officers professional latitude and, where warranted, the benefit of the doubt.  

Without minimizing justified outrage over confirmed police brutality and racially motivated misconduct, count me among those who concur with both the president and Trump. The law enforcement profession should not be subject to blanket condemnation.

Other professions, however, appear to be fair game.

Permit me to emphasize an important disclaimer: Despite the fact that school shootings in America occur with some frequency, and teachers are sometimes assaulted and/or abused by violent students, I am not equating the potential dangers teachers face with the day-to-day risks associated with being a police officer. There is no pure vocational equivalency.  

I’m also not trying to demonize students in public schools, the vast majority of whom are not engaged in behavior that would be considered criminal outside the educational setting. Having established that, consider the following: 

Nearly all police officers in the United States are public-sector union members with some political clout.

So are most public school teachers.

Police officers nationwide generally have seniority job protection and earn higher salaries than rookies and those lower on the pay scale.

The same is true for public school teachers.

Police salaries are paid by taxpayers and – in many states – they receive a defined-benefit pension with an early retirement option.

Just like many public school teachers.

Police officers who have been in the profession for years sometimes become jaded and feel beaten down by the challenges of the job, many of which are outside their control. They may even lose some of their idealistic passion.

So do public school teachers.

Police, as a group, have the unwavering support of conservatives and the qualified support of progressives – most of whom rightfully argue that the entire profession should not be vilified for the alleged misconduct or ineptitude of a few. 

Teachers … ummm.

Richard Ullman, of Olean, is a veteran public high school teacher now working in the Cuba-Rushford School District.

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