OpEd: Should police vigils be worthy of concern?
Police officers gather at a candlelight vigil in Toronto on Wednesday, July 20, 2016.
Chris Lewis, Special to CP24.com
Published Friday, July 22, 2016 2:56PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 28, 2016 7:53AM EDT
Between anti-police protests; a series of “questionable” police shootings of black men in the U.S.A.; a barrage of homicidal attacks on police; and some biased media commentators that continually spew vitriol against law enforcement; I’m increasingly hesitant to open the internet in the morning. But yet I do – because someone that understands the culture and the challenges faced by the men and women in blue needs to stay on top of the issues and advocate for them.
I’m not going to give police a pass when they err. But I am going to do my best to explain the difference between honest mistakes and malice, as well as provide analysis from a law enforcement perspective on these difficult matters.
Case in point: On Wednesday evening, members of the Toronto Police led a vigil for eight police officers who were murdered in horrific ambushes that occurred in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The commentary that both preceded and followed this well-intentioned event varied from total support to complete damnation.
First of all, some reported that it was a “Toronto Police” event and attempted to throw gas on the growing tension between some members of Toronto’s black community and the TPS. Yes, it was in fact organized by the Toronto Police Association and was held on the grounds of the Ontario Police Memorial, which is smack-dab in the centre of Canada’s largest city. But all police services were invited and many sent representatives. It wasn’t designed to be divisive in any way, but was meant to allow the many police personnel who couldn’t attend the large funerals held in the southern U.S. to honour their fallen American comrades here at home.
It also wasn’t intended to counter or insult the Black Lives Matter (BLM) event that was simultaneously occurring blocks away to honour three citizens who were recently shot by police in the U.S.A. I truly believe that it was simply a unplanned coincidence.
But how have we got to the point that a Toronto vigil held for seven American cops who were murdered by two citizens becomes a significant discussion point and is alleged to be an inappropriate activity by some, while little to no criticism occurs of a similar event held for three African American citizens who were killed by U.S. police? Frankly, I don’t feel that either event was worthy of focused debate.
Chief Mark Saunders commented at the event that police morale is suffering as a result of everything that has occurred as of late. That doesn’t surprise me. I strongly believe that decreasing morale often results in decreases in both productivity and professionalism. Fully knowing that a small minority of officers will never be productive or professional, why would we want to do anything to jeopardize the morale of the vast majority of officers that are completely committed to keeping us safe with the utmost of competence and professional behaviour?
I completely appreciate that the three police shootings of two men and a women are dubious, but they are under the scrutiny of intense investigations to determine the “actual” facts, versus what we “think we know” about them. Highly-publicized cell-phone videos have shown pieces of the events that are understandably cause for concern, but there’s so much more that we do not know about these tragedies yet. We all need to hear the reality of these unfortunate situations before damning all police officers across the continent, as some would like us to do.
In the case of the police vigil, who cares that police held a solemn candlelight ceremony for murdered cops? At the same time, who cares that BLM held a peaceful event for those they believe to have been murdered by police? Damning either event does nothing to bolster the fragile relationship that already exists between the two entities.
Police are being criticized every which way for most things they do and many things they don’t. They are increasingly feeling like they are in a no-win situation and obviously tensions between police and some communities have risen to catastrophic proportions when cops to our south are being hunted down and killed like feral dogs on the street.
Let’s let the operational criticisms be properly investigated by the independent bodies that we are so blessed to have in this province. Let’s show our support for these brave souls and celebrate the wonderful things they do every minute of every day in Canada, rather than jump on them for having a vigil. And let’s not allow yet unproven allegations against a few police officers in another country sully the reputation of and destroy the morale of our police officers here at home. They deserve better and their communities deserve them to be at their very best.
Chris Lewis served as Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police from 2010 until he retired in 2014. He can be seen regularly on CTV and CP24 giving his opinion as a public safety analyst.