This past weekend in Jersey City, NJ, a sea of uniformed law enforcement officers gave their support to the family of officer Melvin Santiago, a rookie cop, barely a year with the force, who was purposely gunned down by an assailant for no other reason, it would seem, but to take a dramatic action and strike at a symbol of law and order. The image of hundreds of men and women, standing in formation and saluting a fallen comrade, let Mr. Santiago's family, the community, and the world know that this officer's life was of value, and that what he represented was important.
What makes the story even more poignant is that the officers came out in force, not only to salute their comrade, but also in defiance to threats made by gang members affiliated with the cop killer who took Officer Santiago's life.
It is this type of strength and unity in the face of potential risk that makes our society one of the best in the world. That local politicians, other police forces, and more importantly, the surrounding communities can band together in the face of danger insures that we as citizens can depend upon the general safety and security necessary to carry on with our own lives.
That is not to say that the relationship with law enforcement in the United States, and in particular with men of color, hasn't been a tumultuous one. Officers are human, and the corrupting psychological effects that power over others can have on the soul is real. We are seeing firsthand how heavy handed tactics and callous indifference can cause deaths to innocents, and degrade the relationship with the community. New York City's ongoing debate over "Stop and Frisk" is an example of how communities struggle with different models of effective policing.
Despite many of the issues above, one thing is certain - a strong body of law enforcement, and one that is held in respect and prestige, is critical to the stability of a society, and essential to maintaining a democracy.
For comparison, we only have to look toward places like Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico, where cartels and gangs are not only a strong force, but the overwhelming force within these countries. What few brave souls shun corruption and attempt to do their duty for the community are targeted and killed. The inability to safeguard its populace is a major reason behind the exodus of children heading towards our southern border, trying to escape unchecked violence and the simple lack of value that has been placed on human life.
We as Americans must understand, that while imperfect, we are privileged to benefit from an environment where law enforcement is regarded as an honorable profession. It is something that kids want to "be" when they grow up. It is for them, the closest thing to being a super hero.
We must appreciate that rather than cower under the cloud of danger or risk of retribution, our officers band together and honor each other and the work that they do. It is to their credit that even when confronted with the ultimate sacrifice of one of their peers, they are even more determined to do the job of serving and protecting our citizens.
We can do better. We can always do better. But let us remember that often the only thing that differentiates the lives we lead, with the lives others are trying desperately to flee, are our reliance on the men and women in uniform.The blanket of safety we take for granted in our country is built on the backs of men and women like Detective Melvin Santiago. We must honor these men and women by supporting, and always striving to improve upon, the rule of law everywhere, especially in the places where it is most needed.