There are two days each year when I feel a little sad all day. One is Good Friday.
The other is September 11.
On both of those days I am acutely aware of the price of service and duty.
I’m writing this on September 11. It’s been 14 years since fire fighters and police officers sacrificed their lives to try to rescue thousands of people they didn’t even know. None of us will ever forget that day.
So why is it that so many have forgotten that police officers are heroes?
Does anybody really believe that in 14 years our law enforcement officers have mutated from people who would sacrifice their lives without hesitation to racists who gun down children for no reason?
I hope not. I prefer to think that the rare instances of police misconduct that make the news get reported because they are shocking deviations from the norm. I’d like to believe that people understand that the vast majority of police officers deplore misconduct from within their ranks and fight to bring those bad cops to justice.
Here’s the problem. Too many people see the media reports and leap to the conclusion that we live in a police state where deranged and racist police officers terrorize innocent citizens. And there are people who fan the flames.
Yesterday a former captain of a local sheriff’s department turned himself in to authorities. He is accused of several felonies as a result of a GBI investigation that I requested. Lost in the news coverage is this essential fact—I learned about the allegations from the Sheriff and one of his captains. They encouraged me to do whatever I felt was appropriate and have assisted in every way that they could.
Not long ago I asked the GBI to investigate a local police chief. This was the second police chief in our circuit that we had arrested. In both of those matters law enforcement diligently sought the truth and justice.
Police officers are human beings. When they break the law, they face the consequences. The rest of the law enforcement community would not tolerate any other approach.
I think that is commendable. That attitude should bolster our confidence in law enforcement and make us more secure.
If we use our heads, it will. If we get swept away by Chicken Little media reports designed to engender distrust of the greatest justice system in the history of the world, we will fall into a trap. We’ll start to believe that officers cruise the streets looking for citizens of another race to harass.
I wish every community had an organization like the Fayette County NAACP. Right after we had two murders in Fayette County, that organization arranged a press conference. The purpose? To announce to the world that they support our law enforcement and join with them in the effort to keep the community safe.
I wish every community had people like my African-American friend who practices law in the circuit. Her client asked her, “Why come it is that they always pull over the brother?”
She responded with a question of her own. “Why come it is that when they do, you always have drugs in the car?”
Here’s my question. If the police are racists who actively seek to harm others, why did they run into the flaming and collapsing buildings in New York City to rescue people of all colors?
The appropriate attitude is too boring to make the news. What we need is for people to accept responsibility for their actions. Quit blaming everybody else when you are at fault. Let’s be sure we hold people accountable, regardless of who they are.
That’s what law enforcement officers do.
Scott Ballard is District Attorney for the Griffin Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Fayette, Pike, Spalding and Upson counties.