Barry Saunders

Cops are human, and when they hurt, we all do – Saunders

Dallas police chief after shootings: "This must stop"

Before he was killed with a bomb squad robot's device, a suspect in the Dallas shootings that killed five police officers told a hostage negotiator that he was upset about recent police shootings and angry at white people, Dallas Police Chief Davi
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Before he was killed with a bomb squad robot's device, a suspect in the Dallas shootings that killed five police officers told a hostage negotiator that he was upset about recent police shootings and angry at white people, Dallas Police Chief Davi

You know how sometimes when you open up your newspaper or turn on your TV you see stories or images of a cop jumping rope with kids in the projects, doing the Whip or the Nae Nae, buying a barefoot homeless man some shoes or a sandwich?

The trend right now is to show cops participating in the “Running Man” challenge, in which various cop shops from around the country do a dance-off against each other to see which one can best do the do.

They’re all over the news and social media, those stories meant to humanize cops, soften their image, make the rest of us see that – despite the troubling news stories involving some police officers – gosh darn it, they’re not all bad.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to see that to know cops are human and that not all of them are bad. Nor did I need to see five slain in Dallas to recognize that they do a job few of us would do for the pay and vitriol they receive.

Even before I found out about the mass killing of cops, my heart was grieving. How could it not be after two cops killed Alton Sterling despite having him pinned on the ground in Baton Rouge, La., or after Philando Castile’s white T-shirt turned redder and redder as he lay mortally wounded in a car while his girlfriend told the world on Facebook what was happening – and the cop who’d shot him kept a gun aimed at Castile and her? The girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter sat in the car’s backseat trying to comfort her mommy.

Whose heart wouldn’t break after receiving a late-night text from a buddy – “Man, do you believe this @#$%?” – and turning on the television to see what was happening in Dallas?

The pain in my heart wasn’t just as a black man, either. Pain has no color, and this pain came from being an American, from being a human being.

Yours may not have, but mine isn’t that strong. The pain in my heart wasn’t just as a black man, either. Pain has no color, and this pain came from being an American, from being a human being.

If your heart isn’t hurting for America after the week we just had, you may need to get that sucker checked.

Don’t feel bad, though, if your first thought was – as Waylon Jennings said in one of his great songs – “stop the world and let me off.”

That’s frequently been my first thought after a lot of the incidents that have occurred recently in America – not because they’re happening more frequently than in the past, but because the ubiquity of cellphone cameras and wall-to-wall news thrusts the images right into our eyeballs and brains, making it harder for us to ignore them.

Despite what 24-hour, gotta-feed-the-beast, if-it-bleeds-it-leads TV news coverage makes it seem like, the biggest threat to young black men’s mortality isn’t the cops or the KKK. It’s what the Rev. Jesse Jackson once called the “BBB – the big bad brotha’ with a gun.”

Faux newscasters constantly regale with tales of a war on police, but statistics show it has never been safer to be a law enforcement officer. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund website shows that fewer officers have been killed in each of the past three years than in any year since at least 1960.

There is no war on police, but even one officer losing his or her life to violence should be unacceptable in a civilized society. And the man identified as the shooter did the Black Lives Matter movement no favors. He told police that he was not associated with the movement, but let’s see the public try to separate the two.

There is no contradiction in revering black lives and blue officers, in condemning black criminals and blue criminals.

It won’t.

I will, though, because there is no contradiction in revering black lives and blue officers, in condemning black criminals and blue criminals.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, in a speech that could go down as one of the greatest ever delivered in a crisis – if, that is, we heed it – said Friday, “As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and retain the ability to function. … Can we as citizens speak against the actions of a relatively few officers who blemish the reputation of their high calling, and at the same time support and defend the 99 percent who do their jobs professionally, honestly?”

Yeah, and can we mourn black men who were needlessly killed and protest their deaths without it being viewed as a condemnation of all cops?

My college nemesis Masonic Stokes retired 10 years ago from the Raleigh Police Department as a senior officer, but when I spoke with him Friday he said he is still in touch with many of his former badge mates. Not only that, he said, but he feels a kinship with the Dallas officers.

“We all took an oath to serve and protect our cities and communities,” he said. “Once you take that oath, you’re bound by it and you feel for the families” that lost loved ones.

While summering in Washington, D.C., two months after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Jr. was assassinated in 1968, with parts of the city still smoldering from the resulting uprising and the smell of charred buildings still wafting through our untouched neighborhood, I remember an indisputable difference in how police interacted with neighborhood residents.

Prior to the uprising, the only time we saw cops was when they were chasing a stolen car through the streets, kicking in somebody’s door or turning off the water hydrants we’d turned on to provide relief from summer’s swelter.

In the riots’ aftermath, cops began strolling through the neighborhood, chatting with residents, letting us kids turn on their cruiser’s siren or talk on the radio – and they began turning on the water hydrants. The mood in our community, I recall, lifted even before the smoke did, because for the first time we began to see police officers as people and they, it seemed, began to see us as something other than perps.

Of the scores and scores and scores of interactions I’ve had with cops – some bad, most as good as one could expect – the most memorable occurred on one of those summer nights in Washington. While playing a children’s game – or possibly just running for the heck of it – I ran heedlessly from behind a parked car and into the middle of busy Seventh Street. Car tires screeched and within seconds I was off my feet – not hit by a car, but hoisted by its driver, an enraged cop.

As a cynical adult, I’ve sometimes allowed myself to think he was upset primarily at the extra paperwork hitting me would’ve caused him. At the time, though – and when cynicism fades – my adolescent self found and finds it reassuring that a cop was concerned enough about me to froth and yell.

If I didn’t know cops were regular people before that incident, I did after it.

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