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Courage to trust

July 14, 2016
Editorial , Lake Placid News

The sniper-style shooting of police officers in Dallas Thursday night, July 7 - killing five and injuring seven - was an atrocity that people across the country are rightfully mourning.

It's critical that 25-year-old Micah Johnson's actions are not condoned by people protesting the killings of innocent black people by unprofessional police officers - and thankfully, there seems to be a national, blanket repulsion to this deed. By seeking vengeance, this man only hurt the quest for justice.

And justice is needed for the victims of these unnecessary killings by police. Officers and police departments in such cases have not experienced consequences and reform compelling enough to stop this national streak - though obviously the massacre of random police officers is not the answer.

Both are examples of a loss of trust, a loss of a sense of community - the idea that we're all in this together, not out to get each other.

Thankfully, we rarely see that up here. We are thankful to have village police officers who generally treat people as neighbors and state troopers who generally are respectful, decent and professional. Lawsuits against Lake Placid patrolmen in 2012 and this year challenged that reputation, but on the whole, we still trust that our officers do good work and have justice at heart.

Police is one of the noblest, most essential professions. Because people depend on them so much, the stakes are high, and so is the public scrutiny.

Nationwide, police have been under a microscope lately, but that attention should not only be to wait for them to screw up. We must hold public protectors accountable for their actions, but we also owe them gratitude when they handle a difficult situation well. They're only human, and we need them to do their jobs well.

There's plenty of responsibility to go around for the situation our nation is in: police who fear people they're supposed to protect, criminals who give officers reason to fear, people who pick sides when we should all be on everyone's side, and anyone who carries a weapon around out of fear of their neighbors.

To live in fear of death is to live as a coward. We need to trust each other - with our lives, if necessary. That takes courage, as well as St. Paul's holy trio of faith, hope and love.

Much has been said about police inherently fearing black people more than whites. That's probably true in some cases, but professional chauvinism is also a factor: police feeling they must defend themselves against masses of civilians who don't seem to understand them.

Also, fear is drilled into police officers early - sometimes too much. Officers are trained from the beginning that if it comes down to a cop dying or someone else, they need to make sure the cop goes home that night.

Obviously, police officers must be alert and cautious, but defensive edginess can lead "peace officers" to overreact and sometimes to lash out at innocent people.

Whenever someone uses deadly force on another pre-emptively - out of fear the other is an enemy who may do harm, but without proof they will - it's a grave act. It cannot help but bring consequences.

Yet we humans have developed methods to limit, if not eliminate, the consequences of grave acts. Those methods, taken collectively, we call justice.

Without it, all hell breaks loose.

Its primitive forms - think "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" - aren't much better.

Over time, justice has gotten better at resolving conflicts in more nuanced, broadly acceptable ways, but it's still evolving. There's plenty of room for improvement, and we look forward to that - and a more peaceful world as a result.

If we want peace, we must work for justice and maintain a basic trust of our neighbors. We are diverse in many ways, and that's good. In this country, we have liberty - the freedom to differ. But we also have underlying ties that bind us together, and we need to make sure everyone knows that - especially those who might be prone to fear, despair and/or demagoguery in light of a few recent events. To those people we should try to teach the lesson of Anne Frank, written in a hidden room while being hunted by Nazis for imprisonment, torture and death - a more fearful situation than most of us will ever know.

"It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical," she wrote (translated from her native Dutch). "Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."



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