The meme posted last week on the official Instagram page of the Providence Police Department read like this:
“There are 700,000 police officers in the United States. They are not represented by five police officers from one department. #Holdtheline.”
Borrowed from a pro police propaganda website, it was up only a few hours before it spread on social media. When community concerns were expressed, it was quickly taken down with this statement:
“The recent post on the Providence Police Department Instagram page is an inappropriate reflection of our department’s response to the horrific incident that occurred in Memphis, TN. The civilian employee who posted this did so without authorization from sworn supervisory personnel and the post was removed yesterday afternoon. In response to this incident, the vetting process for authorization of content posted to Providence Police Department social media platforms is currently under review.”
With the kind of growing worldwide press law enforcement suffers, the instinct to defend and distance from the beating death of Tyre Nichols is understandable.
But it’s time to break the cycle.
Instead, police organizations from around the country should be seizing the moment and physically coming together, in Memphis, to acknowledge what happened there and, as one industry, apologize.
Now I know what you’re thinking.
Why should good police who have never even been to Memphis take any responsibility for what five or six rogue “scorpions” did to that young man?
And because this one is an anomaly with Black cops on a Black victim, it doesn’t even feed the “race” debate.
So, hold the line. Talk about how bad apples don’t spoil the whole bunch. You wouldn’t ask teachers nationwide to apologize for a random bad story about one of their own, so why the double standard? And the media makes too much of it.
In part, that’s true. Cable networks can’t get enough. But that is not going to change, and the news cycle creates a connectivity resulting in protests around the country, which make it feel all too local.
Law enforcement is unique from other fields, and unfortunately public resentment for it is growing, even outside urban America. While reform is happening in pockets, there seems to be little synergy and a nagging urge from police unions to resist. See the stall in Rhode Island for changes to our own Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
Even more pressure is coming in Washington for federal legislative solutions that are in part constructive but mostly punitive.
Body cams are on. The job is getting tougher, and the number of applicants for academies is dwindling as communities compete for a qualified list.
It used to be when a neighborhood kid decided to be a police officer, friends and family cheered the decision. Now under one’s breath we sometimes wonder if the poor thing is crazy.
It’s a death spiral for the industry and for the country.
The solution has to rest with policing itself.
Acknowledge the world is small and Memphis is anywhere. Take ownership of each other from coast to coast. Offer national contrition for this awful story. Make a good-faith promise to end the chance for another similar news cycle.
Back it up by accelerating self-generated reform that will turn this Titanic challenge in a more optimistic direction while reminding us why you made what should be a celebrated career choice.
And don’t be bothered by the silly political demands to “defund” the police. If the current dynamic doesn’t change soon, tragically there will be no quality police to fund.
Dan Yorke is the PM Drive Host on 99.7/AM 630 WPRO, Dan Yorke State of Mind weekends on Fox Providence/WPRI 12 and owns communications/crisis consulting firm DYCOMM LLC.
Welcome to the discussion.
Comments that will be deleted include:
What we at The Breeze would truly like to see are comments that add history and context to a story or that use criticism constructively.