These are hard days for police officers and their family members.
Law enforcement is a family affair. When someone puts on a uniform, straps on a gun and swears an oath, they have to know that coming home safely at the end of a shift is not guaranteed. And since that officer is someone’s child, spouse or parent, a bunch of civilians go along for the ride.
I spent most of my life on that ride. I’m 49 years old and my dad is a retired cop who was on the job for 37 years — long enough to make him unsuited to be anything else.
My childhood was, shall we say, eventful.
When I was about 10 years old, my dad, in his uniform and about to start his shift, told me that he might not come home. A man in town had been brandishing a gun and daring anyone to take it away. My dad took away the gun. The man threatened his life. My father wanted me to know that he loved me and that, if anything happened, he expected me to take care of the family.
Many years later, as he was nearing retirement, I bought my dad a medal of St. Michael, the archangel and guardian of — among others — police officers. He wore it with pride.
Recently, the national scourge of cop killing came to my city. Two San Diego Police officers Jonathan DeGuzman, a married father of two young children, and Wade Irwin, a married father of a 19-month old baby, were shot after confronting a gunman. Irwin went to the hospital; DeGuzman wound up in the morgue.
A few weeks ago, in Kansas City, Kansas, Captain Robert David Melton was killed while responding to a report of a drive-by shooting.
It was the second time this year that the department had undergone such a tragedy. On May 9, Detective Brad Lancaster, 39, was shot and killed during a violent crime spree.
In between those two murders, five police officers were killed and seven others were wounded in Dallas, Texas, because 25-year-old Micah Johnson — a black Army veteran — was angry over police killings of black Americans.
And in Baton Rouge, three officers were shot and killed, and three more were wounded, after 29-year-old Gavin Long — a black former Marine, who was also angry over police treatment of black Americans — opened fire. One of the dead officers — Montrell Jackson — was also black.
To have police officers hunted and killed simply because they’re police officers puts us in unexplored territory.
Yet, this is only half the story. At this point, we’re like the marriage counselor who doesn’t really understand why a relationship is so toxic because we’ve only heard one side.
We have known for years — and ignored and shrugged off and done nothing about — the fact that black Americans and Latinos are profiled by police, and searched more often than whites for drugs (even though whites are more likely to possess them), and roughed up by cops, and sometimes even killed by nervous officers because they’re perceived to be more dangerous or prone to violence than white people in similar circumstances.
The Justice Department has opened a civil rights inquiry into the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and it is “monitoring” the shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota.
Some police reform activists have flipped the script and now claim that blacks are being “hunted” by police.
Recently, Columbia professor Trey Ellis wrote an incendiary column for the Huffington Post titled: “The police hunting and killing of black men stops today.”
I’d like to think that — since I’m not just the son of a retired cop, but also a Latino with a son who, one day, might find himself in a tense situation with a police officer — I’m a little better positioned to see both sides.
Everyone has his own idea about what we need to make the situation better. Police unions think tougher penalties for cop killers are needed. Black Americans think it’s necessary to end racial profiling. Police chiefs insist the answer is community policing.
It’s all those things, and none of those things. What we’re aching for at this moment is empathy, the ability to stand in the shoes of another and see the world from his point of view.
We should pray for empathy. And, while we’re on our knees, we might also say a prayer to St. Michael to continue to protect our protectors.
Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a columnist for the Daily Beast, author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano” (Bantam), and the editor of MOSH OPINIONS — the opinion page of the multi-platform digital media company MOSH.US.