The Cleveland Police Union has missed the irony in their protest of the Browns
The Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association will not carry the flag at the Browns opener next week. This is in protest of the Browns allowing their players to kneel during the national anthem at preseason games. The president of the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees supports the move, calling the Browns’ management “hypocritical” for “allowing” the players to “disrespect” the flag.
This is a free country. Their union is free to express its disappointment in the actions of the Browns in any peaceful way they see fit. Sadly, they don’t seem to feel that the players have that same right. The statements made by union chief Steve Loomis appear to indicate that he feels that Browns management should have somehow coerced a group of grown men into standing during the anthem.
Does Mr. Loomis expect the Browns to cut everyone involved in the protest, or to fine them? Maybe suspend them for a game or two? For one thing, the Browns are in the business of winning football games, contrary to recent history. That task will be difficult enough for this young team without having half its roster sit out. For another thing, any such act by management would be met about thirty seconds later by a loud protest from the NFL Players Association, which would do anything within its power to prevent such punishment from taking effect.
The Cleveland Police Union should be able to identify with a union standing up for its members. They, after all, have backed the two cops involved in the shooting of Tamir Rice every step of the way. Rice was the 12-year-old boy shot to death by officers while waving a toy gun around on a playground. Although the cops waited less than two seconds after exiting their vehicle before firing their weapons, the union was able to get the shooting ruled as justified and helped the cops keep their jobs. One of the officers involved was fired this year for lying on his job application.
The union also backed the six cops involved in the chase across the city of Cleveland in 2012 that ended in cops firing 137 shots into a vehicle occupied by two unarmed people. One of the cops was standing on the hood of the car as he fired the last fifteen shots.
You can make your own judgments on whether these and other police shootings are justified. You can also figure out whether it’s a big deal to stand or sit for the national anthem. As we said, the fact that the players can choose to kneel, the cops can boycott the game, and I can sit here complaining about it is part of what makes this a great country. The fact that we have a system of innocent until proven guilty is also part of what makes this a great country.
It is possible to love this country and still acknowledge that it doesn’t always live up to those ideals. We should be able to find common ground there, right? The justice system does not treat African-Americans equally. The high-profile shootings and beatings of unarmed black men and women are the tip of the iceberg. Blacks routinely receive much harsher punishments for drug crimes than whites. They also are subjected to petty harassment — such as “driving while black” and being subjected to random searches without probable cause.
These are facts. It is also a fact that we ask cops to make decisions that would make most of us piss ourselves. Like in any other segment of society, most police officers are good people, sincerely trying to do the right thing. But cops, good or bad, are legally entitled to use deadly force whenever they deem necessary. This means that the group as a whole needs to be willing to submit to some scrutiny.
Thus far, the police union seems unwilling to do so. The reality is that the vast majority of African-Americans, and Americans in general, have no place to go when they are victims of injustice. The legal system is tedious, byzantine, and expensive. The political process is unresponsive. The few among us who have a platform from which to be heard — celebrities, athletes, and rich people — are doing a noble thing when they use that platform to seek justice for people less fortunate than them (although Thabo Sefolosha might argue that it can happen to anyone).
If one of his cops was disciplined for expressing an opinion, I sincerely doubt that Loomis would stand idly by. He should respect that right in others and understand that the actions of some of his cops play a role in players feeling a need to protest. Rather than look for ways to create even more divisions, he should look for ways to increase understanding.
The best way to protect cops from making mistakes that will ruin lives is to help them avoid such confrontations in the first place. The path to avoiding these instances is more understanding, not more division. By provoking more confrontation, Mr. Loomis is not protecting his cops, but putting them at greater risk while missing the irony of his protest.