I learned that a friend of mine in law enforcement took offense at a column I wrote recently. His specific issue was with my assessment of the Uvalde Police Department, in which I described the officers who loitered outside the school for more than an hour while a massacre took place as “gutless cowards.”
I heard all of this secondhand, but to my understanding, my friend thought I was painting all of law enforcement with that same broad brush. That’s probably on me for not being more specific, so I’d like to clear the record: the feelings I have toward the Uvalde Police Department are limited to those specific officers.
In fact, some readers might be surprised to learn that when I was a full-time journalist, I wrote a ton of stories about the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, the Martinsville Police Department, and the Martinsville Sheriff’s Office. I think extremely highly of Sheriff Lane Perry, Chief Eddie Cassady, and Sheriff Steve Draper. I have a great deal of respect for them and their deputies and officers, and I routinely tell people that we’re fortunate in Martinsville and Henry County to have law enforcement officers who are fair and honest in their dealings. That’s certainly not always the case.
I say all of that as someone with a healthy distrust of authority, and as someone who isn’t afraid to criticize law enforcement.
We’re living in a moment where criticism of law enforcement is reaching an all-time high, and I feel much of that criticism is warranted. Nonetheless, I have sympathy for the honest, compassionate men and women in law enforcement who genuinely just want to help people and have hate and invective hurled their way.
Perhaps I’m sympathetic to it precisely because I’m a former journalist, one of the only other jobs where random strangers approach you on the street to tell you you’re bad at your job and everything you stand for is corrupt and wrong.
Having said that, I believe there’s one obvious reason why people tend to lump all of law enforcement together, and it’s fairly unique to that career.
If an accounting firm embezzles millions from a client, other accounting firms don’t refuse to condemn them. If a firefighter turns out to be an arsonist, the firefighting community doesn’t circle the wagons and quietly support him.
And yet when something like the Uvalde massacre happens, we tend to hear silence from other members of law enforcement.
This is a situation in which a police department that receives 40% of the city budget refused to enter an elementary school during an active shooter situation, and THEN tackled, pepper sprayed, and even tasered parents as they attempted to rush in and rescue their children. After initially entering the school, the officers retreated and refused to go back inside for more than an hour, giving the shooter plenty of time to murder 19 children and two teachers.
The actions of the Uvalde PD are shameful, and I have a sinking feeling there’s more information yet to come to light that will make the situation even more condemnable. Why else would the department’s official stories continue to shift and change with time, and why else would their police chief stop working with investigators?
You might say, “Well Ben, I bet YOU would have been afraid to rush in there and take out that gunman!” And yeah, I’m sure I would have been, which is why I have not pursued a career in law enforcement.
It’s not hard to condemn the Uvalde PD, and people across the board have done just that. One of the few things that Democrats and many Republicans seem to agree on is that Uvalde was a shameful botched response that cost many children their lives.
And yet I’m not hearing much condemnation from other police departments. A little bit would go a long way.
We’re told time and time again that we need to respect law enforcement because they put their lives on the line every day to protect us. If the Uvalde Police Department can’t hold up their end of the bargain, why should the rest of us?