This image of two police officers in riot gear about to arrest a woman standing in a Baton Rouge street may be the most iconic image from the recent Black Lives Matter protests. Currently, over 100 protesters have been arrested in Baton Rouge, along with a couple of journalists. In Dallas, 5 officers were killed and others wounded when an anti-government extremist opened fire with an assault rifle on police who were monitoring a peaceful protest.
In the wake of the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile, the issues of racism and police brutality have boiled up to the forefront of our national discourse. As usual, the conservative media has done everything possible to spin the narrative to blaming black Americans for their plight, while making excuses for the actions of the officers who killed these men. The right-wing blog The Conservative Treehouse even made up a story to claim that Philandro Castile was wanted for armed robbery and that he was not licensed to carry a weapon.
Mind you, this is the same conservative media that praised the anti-government Bundy militia which pointed guns at federal agents in Nevada, and lived to tell about it. As I write this, there are literally thousands of comments on local news stories concerning Baton Rouge where ignorant individuals are calling for injury or death to protesters, while also spouting platitudes about “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter.”
The fact of the matter is you can care about the system prejudice towards people of color, protest police brutality, AND support the men and women of law enforcement. As someone said, this isn’t a zero sum game. In Baton Rouge and the rest of Louisiana, the system isn’t just failing black Americans, it is failing everyone – including the police.
The starting pay for a Baton Rouge police officer is just over $31,000 a year. A teacher makes about the same starting salary as a police officer in Baton Rouge, and people wonder why it is so hard for the city to attract and retain quality employees.
The problem for both minorities and public employees is that despite all of the sloganeering from the conservative media, they’re conspicuously silent on the fact the system has failed both, thanks to decades of conservative economic and social policies. Police are not sufficiently trained and they are forced to serve as first responders not only to criminal activity, but also for mental health crises. In nearby St. Martin Parish recently, two sheriff’s deputies were sent to deal with a man having a mental breakdown. Mental health services were not responsive, so the family called 911 to ask for help restraining Michael Noel and getting him to a hospital. When the deputies arrived, Mr. Noel resisted and was fatally shot.
I’m not excusing the actions of these officers, but I do want to point out that police are often asked to perform roles outside of traditional law enforcement. Couple that with a country with a history of mistreating minorities that is awash in guns and refuses to make the wealthiest pay their fair share, and it’s no wonder we’re in this mess.