05/28/2010

Betsy Brantner SmithSurvival Insights
with Betsy Brantner Smith

Are we being used (again)?

Once again, the law enforcement officer is the pawn in a deeply emotional political struggle

When the police arrest someone, we are to presume that they are innocent until a judge or jury pronounces them guilty. We must make sure that no rights are violated, all procedures are followed, and the suspects are treated with as much dignity and respect as possible. After all, we are the protectors — the warriors who run toward the shots, the determined truth-seekers who ferret out the worst of society and bring them to justice — we’re the cops.

So why are so many of our own citizens willing to throw us under the bus when it comes to the enforcement of Arizona’s recently enacted Senate Bill 1070, also known as — and don’t miss the irony here — the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act?” 

Like most of you, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks watching and listening to the protests, the outrage, the boycotts, even the silly, late-night jokes about this new bill. And like many of you, I’ve been appalled at the lies, the misrepresentations, and the outright defamation of American law enforcement during these debates.

The main concern over the Arizona law — which mirrors long-standing Federal law — seems to be that the police will not enforce it properly. We will racially profile, stop people without just cause, and generally harass innocent citizens with brown skin who, as President Obama told a group of supporters, are just “taking their kids out for ice cream.”

The whole world seems to have gone mad over a piece of legislation that most of them haven’t read. Even as he made plans to lead the Candlelight Vigil during Police Memorial Week in Washington, DC, Attorney General Eric Holder — who roundly condemned the Arizona law — admitted that he had only “glanced at” the bill and had received most of his information about it from “media reports.”

Media reports?! That’s where the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the country gets his information?! I’ve watched as talking heads, self-proclaimed legal experts, and alleged “objective” journalists on every local, national and cable news network make outrageous and erroneous claims about what this law says and how we, American cops, will take advantage of it to harm our own citizens and those who are legally visiting our country.

The sheriff of Pima County, AZ (the Tucson area) proclaimed that “the law is divisive...it’s stupid, and it’s racist. It’s a national embarrassment,” while in the same week a deputy from neighboring Pinal County was shot and wounded by an illegal immigrant with an AK-47 and a big load of dope.

Wait a minute. Didn’t we just spend a week honoring those among us who died protecting our citizens? Has the world gone mad, or do we have a PR problem?

Like most legitimate polls, a study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found broad public support for key provisions of the Arizona immigration law. In fact, the study of 994 adults surveyed between May 6-9, 2010 found that Arizona immigration reform has struck a chord with the U.S. public. Some 73 percent of those surveyed said they approved of the provision which requires people to provide proof of their legal status, compared with 23 percent who disapproved. A full 67 percent were in favor of allowing police to detain anyone unable to verify their legal status, while 62 percent supported police having the power to question anyone they believed may in the country illegally.

The majority of “Joe-Citizens” seems to support both the police and Arizona immigration reform, so where is the outrage by pro-police groups such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police or the many police unions such as the FOP (of which I am a member) and the AFL-CIO? In fact, the AFL-CIO is calling for the Department of Homeland Security to cease cooperating with local Arizona law enforcement; in other words, they’re trying to pit cop-against-cop. Neither the FOP or the IACP’s websites even mention the Arizona legal controversy, it seems to be an issue that no one on “our” side wants to touch . So far most law enforcement groups have not had much to say about the libelous treatment of the cops by the press, by politicians, and by the citizenry.

Perhaps it’s time we speak up, as individuals, as citizens, as law enforcement professionals, and let the country know that we are tired of being vilified. Let’s stand together and not let politics and pundits pull us apart. Let’s continue to protect our citizens, treat our visitors with respect, and enforce the laws that we’ve sworn to uphold.

Once again, the law enforcement officer is the pawn in a deeply emotional political struggle. We cannot allow ourselves be used like we were in the 60s during the civil rights movement and in the 90s during the Los Angeles race riots. Let’s stand up for ourselves. Speak up, act with honor, be informed, and stay safe. We need each other now more than ever.

About the author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy's website at www.femaleforces.com.

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter

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