By WIN GRUENING
The images on our television screens showing Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests are difficult to watch. Listening to personal stories of people impacted by violence and destruction is painful.
BLM supporters are focused on recent occurrences of police violence captured on video, as well as other documented instances of unarmed suspects shot and killed by police. In 2019, police fatally shot nine unarmed blacks and 19 unarmed whites, according to a Washington Post national database.
Police supporters might be thinking about demonstrations that turned into hate-fests – the insults, bricks, bottles, and feces that were hurled at police trying to maintain order and protect lives and property. And the 135 policemen who were killed last year in the line of duty.
While we can argue about whether systemic racism pervades police departments across the country, there seems to be general acceptance of the notion that broad examination of policing methods, training and accountability is inevitable and warranted if the public’s trust in our police departments is to be maintained.
On the other hand, demonizing all policemen, implementing draconian anti-police measures, and gutting police department budgets will cause irreparable societal harm and guarantee that more lives will be lost unnecessarily.
Alaskans should be relieved that demonstrations here did not devolve into violence, vandalism, or looting as happened in many other states. BLM rallies have mostly remained respectful protests for change. Likewise with Blue Lives Matter demonstrations supporting our law enforcement professionals.
Virulent anti-police invective, however, is common on social media and within extremist organizations.
Nationally, the network cancellations of long-running cop shows reflecting good policing practices that cast the profession in a positive light is an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction.
Pretending there are no good cops is no better than pretending bad cops don’t exist.
We all want rogue cops held accountable. Americans have little tolerance for lawlessness. That applies to criminal policemen as well as riotous arsonists, vandals, and looters. Law and order is the foundation of our society, without which there can be no liberty or prosperity.
Allowing the illegal takeover of a police precinct and a freeway in downtown Seattle by activists, culminating in several fatalities, has proven that choosing to selectively enforce laws is a mistake. The resulting recent spike in violence, defacement and destruction of statues, and general lawlessness across the country should not be tolerated.
The vast majority of police officers are dedicated, compassionate, and fair. African-Americans, Native-Americans and other minorities are among the many professionals in law enforcement organizations across the country that have reduced crime to historic lows and continue to risk their lives to do so.
Last year, the Juneau Police Department handled 32,605 police response calls that generated 5,022 cases and 1,815 arrests. Force (more than a firm grip) was used by 54 officers against 38 people – less than 3% of arrests.
CBJ Mayor Beth Weldon and City Manager Rorie Watt, have openly praised Juneau’s police department for its diverse recruiting and training practices.
No doubt we are asking cops to do too much. We expect them to deal with everything from routine traffic stops to societal issues involving the homeless, drug addicts, and the mentally ill – in addition to locating and apprehending dangerous felons.
It’s possible to believe some police reform is necessary and, at the same time, empathize with and support the police.
The BLM movement claims that our justice system is deeply racist and targets minorities disproportionately. This is superficially and conveniently explained as a function of systemic racism, white supremacy, and white privilege. Today, sadly, it’s exceedingly tough to dispute this narrative because difficult and honest conversations about race are silenced by the threat of being labeled a racist.
Emotions are running high now. But implementation of reforms must be based on facts and root causes – not slogans. Juneau’s elected assembly was wise to pull back and delay consideration of an all-powerful and unelected “systemic racism” committee that would review every city ordinance or resolution prior to enactment.
Any reforms, whether in policing or elsewhere, can only be accomplished through public dialogue that remains measured, respectful, and open to all views.
Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations.