Police shootings leave many of us weeping for the country we love
The editorial cartoon that appears with this column was drawn by one of the most famous cartoonists in history.Bill Mauldin, who became famous for his World War II cartoons depicting “Willie and Joe,” won two Pulitzer Prizes for his work, but when my phone lit up Sunday morning with the news from Louisiana, the first thing that popped into my mind was this cartoon.Mauldin drew it for the Chicago Sun-Times following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.In a heartbeat, a cartoonist captured the mood of America on the day after its president had been shot to death while driving through Dallas.Mauldin’s cartoon showed the statue of President Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial weeping for a fallen president and for his nation.I can only imagine what Mauldin, who died in 2003, would draw today. Maybe the statue would be weeping again; maybe the statue would be throwing up its hands in disgust.All I know is there are times I wonder if America is just broken.And Sunday morning, after returning home from a run and turning on the TV, I wondered again.There was the news, scrolling on the bottom of the coverage from the British Open, that yet another police shooting had occurred.I flipped the channel to CNN and learned that three police officers in Baton Rouge had put on the badge for the final time. They had been killed in what authorities now are describing as an ambush.And I knew the amateur experts would be coming out in full force. I made a mental note to myself to avoid social media but failed.As I scrolled through Facebook Sunday night, I counted at least 10 of my so-called friends who had already posted something akin to the fact that “of course, President Obama says nothing when police officers are targeted.”Yet, Sunday morning, when he learned of the attack, the president made the following statement.“I condemn, in the strongest sense of the word, the attack on law enforcement in Baton Rouge. For the second time in two weeks, police officers who put their lives on the line for ours every day were doing their job when they were killed in a cowardly and reprehensible assault. These are attacks on public servants, on the rule of law, and on civilized society, and they have to stop.”The hate we have in America today — be it for police officers, the president or anyone else — has become downright frightening.And we’re letting that hate stand in the way of the facts. We believe what we want to believe, and we run to Facebook and Twitter and spout the first thing, true or false, that comes to our minds.In my mind, the shootings that have taken place this month are senseless and deplorable.If you have a beef with how law enforcement treats a certain segment of people, there are a thousand different and better avenues to pursue than the ones we’ve seen in Dallas and Baton Rouge.In fact, what has happened in Texas and Louisiana has exacerbated the situation. It has made it a thousand times worse.I do not blame any officer for having a “bunker mentality” today; in fact, I completely understand it.To see fellow officers die while doing their jobs — at a protest against police for God’s sake — has to be incredibly painful. To see fellow officers ambushed on a peaceful Sunday morning has to be especially heart wrenching.I have a long relationship with the law enforcement community, and not because I’ve been in a lot of trouble with the law.In the 1990s, I was the “cops reporter” at the Mason City Globe-Gazette and I spent many a night conducing “ride alongs” with officers.They’re not perfect, but good God, in all the years I’ve dealt with police officers and deputies, I haven’t met a single one who has deserved to be shot for doing their job.They make mistakes sometimes, and as we may or may not see with the recent shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, sometimes those mistakes are tragic.All of us, though, need to take a deep breath and have a real conversation about real issues in America. We need to take the blinders off and try to understand the “other side.”Sometimes, more than anything though, I think we just all need to shut the heck up.I know I’m all over the place here, but as I watched the aftermath unfold in Baton Rouge Sunday, I just wanted to weep for my country.We’re better than this, America.