The men’s locker room at the downtown YMCA in Frankfort has a flat screen TV on the wall. Every morning when I go there to swim, it’s blaring out the daily dosage of bad news. If no one else is in the locker room, I turn it off. If someone is there watching it, I politely endure.
Just recently, I was exposed to another one of those news reports of police brutality. Pretty nasty stuff. The black-and-white video of the encounter showed several uniformed officers in the hallway of some public building, pounding away at some hapless victim who was down on the floor. The clip lasted only about 15 seconds. I stood and watched it and wondered. What was the back story behind this violent encounter? In some cases, there is none.
Sometimes police abuse their sacred trust and use unnecessary and excessive force. It happens. And when it happens, it undermines our faith and trust in law enforcement.
But, there in the YMCA locker room, I turned to my friends watching the news report and asked them this question: “Do you know how many arrests are made by police officers around this country every day? Thousands.” They seemed to get my point.
There are 13,217 law enforcement agencies scattered across America and approximately 653,000 sworn police officers. These agencies include federal, state, and local officers.
Do you know how many people out there in the good ol’ USA get arrested each day? According to the Uniform Crime Reporting Program of the FBI there are approximately 29,212 arrests each day. I was right. Thousands. Almost 30,000 arrests made in one 24-hour period. Incredible.
Think of this while drinking your morning coffee. From Bangor, Maine, to San Diego; from Seattle to the Florida Keys; all through the night while you were sleeping, the men and women of law enforcement were out making arrests to make us safer. From the deadly darkness of a Brooklyn alley, to the lonely stretch of a Texas back road, they face scary encounters with people committing crimes. They arrest dangerous fugitives running from the law, sometimes armed to the hilt.
While you were sleeping some frightened, rookie cop in blue was approaching a car load of suspicious looking characters on a L.A. freeway. As you were safely slumbering in your bed, some man or woman wearing a badge was cut down in a flash of gunfire, leaving a home devastated with grief.
While you slept, prison guards across this land were wide awake and vigilant. Inside the metal and concrete cages of correctional facilities in every state, they confronted crazed and assaultive men and women — some of them hurling human feces into their faces. Violent felons warehoused to keep them from your front door.
Countless times these peace officers carried out their daunting duties with incredible professionalism, constraint that stretches human endurance, and patience.
Yet what you see on the morning news while enjoying your eggs and bacon is an isolated incident of abuse and misjudgment — an aberration infecting a national cadre of police that universally makes us proud. Or, should make us proud. But the isolated abuse makes the news. We see it and take away that image of our police. It’s not fair.
Then you hear the clamor that “Black Lives Matter,” and then you see bumper stickers that read “Blue Lives Matter.” Around-the-clock news barkers stir up division, making money by sowing suspicion and discord among Americans. They do so with a conflagration of noise and distortion, which obscures God’s eternal truth — “all lives matter.”
Retired Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.