Protect the Thin Blue Line

By Steve Livingston

On July 7 in Dallas, a heavily armed sniper shot and killed five police officers who were protecting a Black Lives Matter protest. The Dallas shootings were the most notable example of a disturbing trend of increased attacks on law enforcement. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, forty-five police officers have been shot to death from January 1 to October 11 of this year, representing a fifty percent increase over the same time period in 2015.

What is causing the rise in violence towards police officers? Mental illness, a copy-cat effect, and pure human hatred surely play a role in many of the shootings. But irresponsible and dangerous rhetoric is also partly to blame.

Far too many political leaders and sports stars have implied that most of America’s police officers are inherently racist. For weeks now, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has refused to stand for the national anthem and has argued that “police brutality” is something that has gone on “in this country for years and years.”

More ominously, in St. Paul, Minnesota members of Black Lives Matter shut down Interstate 94, and twenty-one police officers were injured as people threw rocks and bottles at officers. In a video recording of the incident, one women yells, “That’s right, one piggly-wiggly down!” when an officer is injured. Colin Kaepernick has not advocated violence against police, but neither his hasty and imprecise rhetoric, nor the violence advocated by some BLM protestors, is the responsible path forward for our country.

Law enforcement officers are now under constant media scrutiny and it is making an-already difficult job nearly impossible. On October 5, a Chicago police officer responded to a car crash.  A man on drugs attacked the officer at the scene, savagely beating her. After speaking with the hospitalized officer, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the officer told him she hesitated to shoot because “she didn’t want her family or the department to go through the scrutiny the next day on the national news.”

According to FBI Director James Comey, a “chill wind” has blown through the ranks of law enforcement. In Comey’s view, police officers are increasingly apprehensive about stepping out of their police cars to conduct even routine traffic stops. A twenty-second cell phone video, seen without the benefit of the real-world context, can quickly turn a honest, hard-working cop into a national villain.

The anti-police rhetoric must stop and it is time we take concrete steps to protect police officers. The charge for assault with the intent to prevent an officer from carrying out his duty should be raised from a Class C to a Class B felony, while the murder of a law enforcement officer should qualify as an aggravating circumstance in which a capital murder charge is immediately applicable. I will support bills to accomplish these goals in the upcoming 2017 session of the Alabama Legislature, and I will also advocate for a pay raise for state troopers in the field.

This is more than just a moral issue for me. My son-in-law is a police officer for the City of Hoover and is the father to three of my beautiful grandchildren. As soon as I heard the news of the Dallas shooting, I wondered how my daughter, his wife, would react.

Every day, fathers and sons, daughters and sisters, leave their families to patrol the streets and highways of our nation. They form a thin blue line of heroes who keep our cities and towns safe. Now is the time to stand in solidarity with them.

Senator Steve Livingston represents District 8 in the Alabama State Senate, which is comprised of all or parts of Madison, Jackson, and DeKalb counties.