It is the call that police never want to hear. It means that one of their own is in desperate straits. On Thursday night, in Dallas, it became a tragic refrain as five police officers were systematically gunned down and seven others injured in a sniper ambush. Their deaths — “officer down” — are a grim reminder that we should never forget the dangers that police face and the sacrifices they make to do their jobs protecting the rest of us.
“We are heartbroken. There are no words to describe the atrocity that occurred to our city,” Dallas’s shaken police chief, David O. Brown, said Friday of the deadliest single day for law enforcement in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001. The attack — “vicious, calculated and despicable,” as President Obama said — occurred in the city’s downtown as demonstrators were winding down what had been a peaceful protest of police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana that claimed the lives of African American men this week.
One gunman, who was killed with a police explosive following an hours-long standoff, told police he was upset about the recent police shootings and “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.” Authorities are investigating whether the gunman had accomplices. The investigation is still in its early stages, so much is still not known about the gunman or the weapons he used, although witnesses described assault-style weapons that shamefully have became a staple of America’s mass shooters.
As we wait for answers, it is important to spell out certain things. Police and citizens are united by common interests that must not be undermined by those so sick or twisted as to resort to violence. Yes, there are racial disparities in law enforcement that must be confronted. But that does not provide an excuse for violence. And, yes, the jobs that police are asked to do are difficult and dangerous. But that’s all the more reason for police to instill community trust.
“All I know is that this must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens,” said Chief Brown, who is African American and leads a department that has been held up as a national model for police reform. Before the violence broke out Thursday night, the department’s official Twitter account posted pictures of officers mingling peacefully with demonstrators. And when the shooting started, officers didn’t shirk but instead ran, in Chief Brown’s words, “toward gunfire” to help injured officers and pull civilian protesters to safety.
Those scenes of cooperation and courage should not be forgotten. Neither should those who gave their lives doing their duty: Dallas Police Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens , 48; Officer Michael Krol , 40; Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 55; Officer Patrick Zamarripa , 32; Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police Officer Brent Thompson , 43.
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