It is with a heavy heart that I write this column. The past month has been emotional for peace officers. Eight police officers from Dallas and Baton Rouge were assassinated out of hate and, even more sadly, because of the color of their skin. The questions I hear most are why and when will this stop? As a nation, we struggle to make sense of the senseless.
The morning after the assassinations of the five police officers in Dallas, I was contacted by various media groups wanting a comment. I struggled to make myself play the role of the “talking head,” because I truly believe talking heads are part of the “why?” The words they use do nothing more than inflame and sensationalize an issue that, in and of itself, has been politicized. Words are very powerful – as powerful, if not more powerful, than any weapon made by man; for it is how we use our words that drives us to use those weapons.
I made it very clear that morning I was not going to be a talking head about this issue and pointed out what I have been saying for the past two years: the words and politics of fear, anger and hate had led to the assassinations of police officers across our nation. It is imperative our leaders start weighing their words more carefully and perhaps live by the constitutional principles they all claim to uphold by giving police officers the same due process they demand for others.
How can we rush to judgment when we do not know any, let alone, all of the facts? Even more, how can anyone use these events, based on ignorance of those facts, to justify killing a police officer and more specifically, a white police officer?
To the men and women who put a badge on every day and go out and do one of the most difficult jobs there is, thank you. To your families, thank you. The toll on you and your families is immense.
I’ll never forget the night my then-5-year-old son ran up to me, grabbing me around the leg, as I walked out the door for my next shift. I’ll never forget his eyes as he looked up at me and said, “Daddy, don’t let the bad guy get you tonight.” He had heard on the evening news a police officer had been killed by a bad guy.
The Dallas officers were there to protect people protesting them. They were there to protect the protesters’ First Amendment rights. Nonetheless, they became human shields for the same protesters who spoke out against them. The men and women of the Dallas Police Department distinguished themselves that night and exemplified the true nature of law enforcement officers.
Since that time, the talking heads have continued to use words that only divide, but something else has happened – an awakening of the silent majority who are coming to the aid of peace officers. I would like to thank everyone who stopped by the Sheriff’s Office and the Spokane Valley Police Department’s precinct with cookies, pies, letters and cards.
There are three historical figures whom I look toward as examples of how I want to live my life: George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. They stand out because they were willing to lay down their lives for others.
Washington could have been king. He had all the power and gave it back to the people in hopes that Americans would build a free and just society. Dr. King was willing to risk his life in hopes we would become the great, just, honorable and united nation we have the potential to be.
What are we doing with their sacrifices, other than tearing ourselves apart?
I hear from all sides of this issue that we need to engage in dialogue and talk about the disparities within law enforcement. I say the time for dialogue is over. It is time for true leadership to step in and pull both sides together; instead of talking about the issues, we need to find the root causes of these disparities and solve them.
We can do this if we hold on to the dream that is America, where all men and women are created equally; where, in the words of Dr. King, “little black boys and girls and little white boys and girls will one day join hands as sisters and brothers.”
Dr. King gave us a dream. Maybe we should make it a reality.
Ozzie Knezovich is the sheriff of Spokane County.