As a kid, I was taught to honor our service members. Policemen, military, and even security officers were respected. Revered. Collectively, they were our guardians and they were treated as such. But something happened between the days of The Bodyguard and Mall Cop, between Top Gun and Tropic Thunder. A shift took place.
The badge that protected us for so long is under attack. “Militarization of the police!” people cry. The term is horrifyingly accurate. This country is at war, both at home and abroad.
I meet with moms for playdates. They shake their heads over coffee, throwing out names of tragically disturbed individuals and ravaged towns. Elrod, Scott, Baltimore, Berghdal, Ferguson. I have other names in mind: Chris Kyle, Pat Tillman, Dane Balcon; Brian Moore, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, NYPD officers shot at close-range in “retaliation” murders.
“Carry a gun? You deserve to get your head blown off! Taste your own medicine,” an old acquaintance exclaims on the internet. I contemplate the ramifications of that statement. These are humans, just like you and I. Sisters, brothers, moms and dads and aunts and uncles who are trying to return to their loved ones.
Nate and I recently raced to the hospital. A bullet had grazed a friend's temple as he tried to arrest a convicted felon. Inches, centimeters made the difference between him living or dying. His fellow officers lined the hallway, gaping quiet between them.
They understood what most of America doesn't: vitriol from either side can't fix this.
Here in our community, it's not uncommon for people to be in flux. Everybody helps with the constant shuffle between towns and homes as budget cuts lead to reassignments and shift changes and altered family dynamics. It's part of life in this industry. I see the strain it puts on children as their parents have to pick up and go. Kids learn not to ask why Dada won't be at the next holiday.
He has to get the bad guys. “It's a big, important, special job!” parents explain.
Except the kids aren't buying it anymore. They hear the venom directed at their leaders. They're confused to see their role models being attacked.
Quite literally. Law enforcement officers are spat at, lunged towards, jabbed with syringes, kicked, bit, exposed to infectious diseases and threatened on a daily basis. They largely do it in silence, because they understand the gravity of what is happening. Their words are meaningless in the face of death and destruction. There are no coherent sounds to convey the desperation of guardsmen watching their territory implode. Watching the country they devoted themselves to fall to pieces.
But there is a price to all this backlash. At a certain point, the danger will no longer be worth it. Having to explain to their children again and again why everyone hates them is going to get old. The money has never been the primary motivator in this field, and there will continue to be less of it as public sentiment sways against funding.
If this continues, we'll see an exodus of quality law enforcement to fields that are less volatile. The best officers, with a nature for protection and safety, will need to shield their families from this environment. It won't be hard for them to find better offers elsewhere.
America has given up on them. How long until they give up on us?