Police unions denounce ‘vilification’ of police

Three Bay Area police unions issued a call Tuesday for “constructive dialogue” and an end to the “vilification” of police officers in a statement that linked recent protests over police shootings and brutality with the fatal shooting this weekend in New York City of two police officers.

The joint statement from the San Francisco Police Officers Association, the San Jose Police Officers’ Association and the Oakland Police Officers’ Association was issued today in response to the fatal shooting on Saturday of two New York City police officers and of a Tarpon Springs, Florida officer on Monday.

The shootings, the statement noted, have left police officers “shaken to the core”:

“All of our members are on heightened alert.”

Union officials in the statement linked the shootings with recent protests triggered by the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police in places including Ferguson, Missouri and New York City. In both incidents, grand juries declined to indict the white police officers involved.

In the Bay Area anger over those shootings, as well as local incidents, has led to months of protests working under the slogan “Black Lives Matter.”

Oakland and Berkeley, in particular, have experienced large and occasionally unruly protests in which freeways and BART stations have been targeted for takeover and local businesses have in some instances sustained damage from vandals.

While noting police take seriously their responsibility to uphold the First Amendment rights of the public, union officials today argued that protests have too often degenerated into “vilification and violence against this nation’s front line safety servants”:

“The reaction is not unexpected but the vilification of front-line public servants by some politicians and media pundits has been demoralizing and unjust.”

The statement ended with a call for “constructive dialogue” and a “common sense approach to very complex issues.” The police killings have drawn statements of sympathy from many public officials, even those who have previously clashed with the police union.

San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, whose attempt to introduce a resolution during last week’s board of supervisors meeting calling for reforms to police and judicial practices nationwide drew fire from the San Francisco police union, today said his heart went out to the families of the slain officers:

“The police officers have a tough job and the assassination of two police officers by a very troubled man underscores the fear that officers have of one day paying the ultimate price for their public service.”

However, Avalos, whose resolution was voted down by the board of supervisors because it included references to incidents involving San Francisco police, pointed out that the “overwhelming majority” of protesters have been peaceful and do not condone vandalism or violence against police officers:

“We are in a moment where people are calling out racial bias and the need for institutional change in our policing and justice systems, systems that disproportionately impact Black and Brown people.”

For those actively involved in organizing the recent protests, the statement from police unions smacks of opportunism, according to Cat Brooks, an Oakland resident and co-chair of the Onyx Organizing Committee:

“What is sad to me is that the response coming from the police unions doesn’t feel like a mourning of these officers’ lives, what it feels like is an opportunistic grab to shift the public debate away from these horrific commonplace practices at police departments across the country.”

Brooks said that she did not believe the shootings and the police union reactions would dampen the protests, which are fueled by anger over the racial profiling, harassment and deaths experienced by black people at the hands of police, security guards and vigilantes.

Brooks argued that the protests and criticism of police practices do not constitute vilification because those speaking out are telling the truth of their experiences at the hands of police and their concerns are supported by statistics and facts:

“It’s unfortunate that they would use this tragic event to manipulate the realities of what is happening across the country. … The call should be to stop and eradicate the practices that make that the norm.”