Civil Rights

Black Lives Matter is not the enemy, and cops aren’t soldiers

An extraordinary thing happened during the Republican National Convention this week. Well, several extraordinary things, from a string of D-list celebrities proving themselves to be less compelling than the chair Clint Eastwood cussed out in 2012, to Donald Trump failing to land the coveted Zodiac Killer endorsement.

However, the particular craziness I’m referring to slipped through the cracks in the pile-on following Melania Trump’s borrowed speech on Monday night. Earlier in the evening, and again in an op-ed published in The Hill, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, took to podium and pen to declare that America was in a state of open war:

“Americans watching the news of the murders of police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are observing a civil war unfold within our borders. A war between rule of law and anarchy-seeking hate.

{mosads}The murders in Baton Rouge, and before them Dallas, were not acts of domestic terrorism but guerrilla urban warfare against the police -who represent law and order – against the Constitution, and against the American way. The police, the men and women whom I as the Sheriff of Milwaukee County ask to put their lives on the line, are on the front lines of this war.

It’s time to come to the aid of our police, our front-line soldiers, by calling this war, and not terrorism. Avoiding the truth through wordsmithing – the false narrative of the lone-wolf – is contemptible as more innocent officers perish while our politicians hem and haw.”

Okay let’s start by explaining my stake in this. For the last five years, I’ve called Milwaukee home. Sheriff Clarke is my sheriff. I love this city, and watch with excitement as it rapidly reinvents itself. But beneath the surge in tower cranes flying over downtown, Milwaukee has real problems many decades in the making.

Even after years living here, I was stunned to learn that people of color make up the majority of Milwaukee’s population. The reason this fact surprised me is because it also has the dubious distinction of being ranked among the top 10 of most ethnically segregated cities in the country. We’ve had our own problems with police brutality, from the Dontre Hamilton shooting in 2014 to millions of dollars paid out in settlements over illegal strip searches targeting minority communities.

It is coming from this racially-charged environment that Sheriff Clarke has claimed the nation is in a state of open war, declared himself a soldier in that war, and identified as his enemies Americans exercising their Constitutionally-protected right to free assembly.

Despite what Clarke and many of his ideological allies believe, the police are not, and must never be soldiers. To understand why, ask the late Admiral William Adama:

“There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

Seeing oneself as a soldier in a warzone is antithetical to one’s job as an officer of the peace. They are mutually exclusive concepts. Yet Clarke’s incendiary and irresponsible comments demand exactly this, taking the militarization of the police to its final, inescapable conclusion.

Clarke singles out the Black Lives Matter movement by name to blame for the tragic deaths of his fellow officers, even going so far as to accuse them of being “Marxists,” because McCarthyism wasn’t embarrassing enough for Wisconsin the first time around.

This spurious guilt-by-association is both lazy and unbecoming of a man in his position of authority. The truth is BLM leadership has roundly and repeatedly condemned violence against anyone, including in the aftermath of Dallas and Baton Rouge. As sheriff of Milwaukee County, he’s been directly involved in managing security for BLM protests in Milwaukee in the wake of the Dontre Hamilton shooting and many others. All of those protests, some of which grew to include many thousands of people, remained peaceful, with no officers harmed and few incidents or arrests. I know, I was there for two of them.

Sheriff Clarke claims, falsely, that his personal crusade against BLM is an existential struggle of law and order vs anarchy. In reality, the aims of BLM are not lawlessness, but a demand that the actions of police themselves at long last be brought under the umbrella of the rule of law. Their list of policy recommendations are entirely reasonable approaches to tackling the issue of excessive force the police have undeniably leveled against the minority community.

Indeed, the city of Dallas implemented several of them over the last few years and saw a precipitous drop in accusations of brutality by its officers.

Nor is there any evidence to suggest that there’s any sort of growing movement against “law and order,” or the targeting of police in the first place. Indeed, the opposite is true. Violent crime has been on a downward trend for decades, while police fatalities and attacks on officers are likewise nearing 40-year lows. And even including the tragic murders of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, 2016 is on pace to be another low-fatality year for the police, with forty-three officers feloniously killed in the line of duty as of this writing, including thirty-two shot, two assaults, and nine killed in automotive assaults. Not to take away from the very real risks that officers volunteer to face when the take the oath and don the uniform, but in America today, it’s almost twice as lethal being a cab driver.

If there really were a “war” on police, you’d think a citizenry armed with more than three hundred million guns could do better fighting it. Meanwhile, the number of people being killed by police each year remains… well, funny thing about that. It turns out that society cares so little about the people whose lives are taken by police each year that the government doesn’t even bother tracking the statistic. Yes, the number of citizens killed each year by agents of the government charged with protecting them is such a low priority that until recently there wasn’t any call to tally up the dead. It’s certainly hundreds a year, and could be over a thousand. 

The Washington Post won a Pulitzer for counting the number of people officers killed in 2015. The Guardian also tallied the number in 2015. But a move toward an official government count of the deaths at the hands of law enforcement has only made incremental progress at best. All of this really gives some legitimacy to the underlying complaint of BLM, that the justice system doesn’t value their lives equally. It’s a hard claim to argue against, considering their lives literally aren’t officially counted.

Nothing Sheriff Clarke has claimed comes close to an accurate reflection of the realities faced by either the police or the communities they are sworn to serve. He is the one guilty of “wordsmithing,” torturing the language past the breaking point in a transparent attempt to push his own fear-mongering, self-aggrandizing, false narrative placing himself as the head of a righteous force protecting the vulnerable purity of Real Americans from the forces of evil, while conveniently positioning himself for the next step in his political career.

Unfortunately for this grand plan, there is no evidence for his war either on police specifically or the rule of law in general, American citizens protesting for their civil rights are not a domestic guerrilla army threatening to overthrow baseball and apple pie, and Sheriff Clarke is not, and should never be, a real soldier.


Tomlinson is an author and comedian. Follow him @stealthygeek

Tags Baton Rouge Black Lives Matter BLM Clarke convention Dallas Donald Trump GOP Milwaukee Milwaukee County policing Republican Republican convention Sheriff David Clarke
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