Much remains to be learned about the why and the how of Thursday night’s massacre in Dallas, but there is scant mystery about the what: at least 11 police officers were calmly marked for execution for no other reason than that they were cops. When the firing was over, five lay dead and the remainder wounded—some gravely.
To the untrained eye, the attack appears to have been well-planned and carried out with precision. In this respect, it was fundamentally different than the events that brought hundreds of demonstrators to downtown Dallas Thursday—the police-custody deaths of black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and St. Paul, Minnesota, in a welter of chaos, confusion, and conflicting claims of guilt, innocence, and intent.
Baton Rouge and St. Paul, like so many of the similarly tragic police-custody deaths that preceded them, may have been the product of circumstance, or of incompetence, or maybe they were even crimes. Each must be examined in context and judged accordingly. But Dallas was cold-blooded murder—nothing more, nothing less. Attempts to assign equivalence to the horror of it—to suggest, as some are doing on social media, that Dallas is somehow just deserts for Baton Rouge or St. Paul or Baltimore or Ferguson, or even for Eric Garner’s death on Staten Island two long years ago—is morally repugnant.
Moreover, the claim on many lips that “guns” are the issue is correct only in the most abstract sense. To blame inanimate objects for Dallas, Orlando, or San Bernardino, is to deprive both the victims and their executioners of their fundamental humanity. The Dallas gunmen may be evil beyond comprehension, but it is their actions, not their weapons, that must be of principal concern to decent people. The killers, and not just the killing, must be condemned without equivocation. Far too few people are willing to do this. So, guns are an easy out.
Police officers everywhere know the risks of their work. They fear guns, a fact of life which contributes directly to the tensions driving most police-custody deaths. But in the end, cops must worry about threats posed by people—who can be unpredictable, often irrational (if not insane), and far too often lethal. And while cops aren’t all heroes, more are than aren’t.
This isn’t to say that civilian deaths at police hands, irrespective of the specific circumstances, shouldn’t be of grave concern to all Americans. Certainly they must be. But to imply that they are the product of some dark, interwoven, police-driven plot to murder otherwise innocent black men is insane. Yes, it’s an animating notion of the Black Lives Matter movement, but there isn’t a scintilla of evidence to support it, and it should be condemned instinctively by all Americans.
Yet, all too often, the nation’s leaders assign currency to the claim, if not directly, then by implication. President Obama, in Poland on Friday, condemned “evil,” but he really didn’t define it. In 2014, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t seem to catch on until after two NYPD cops were assassinated that he needed to find a way to bring an end to the increasingly violent anti-cop demonstrations.
The Dallas massacre will hopefully temper America’s willingness to accept such bizarre theories. With any luck, it will drive a general embrace of one indisputable fact: cops aren’t perfect, but they aren’t the problem. These troubled days, they’re the solution.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images