The news cycle in America, and the world for that matter, is ever changing. When The Daily Times communicated with Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware, he had not heard about the shootings of 12 police officers in Dallas, but was instead talking to the Times out of the context of the recent shooting incidents in which police officers shot two black men in separate incidents, one in Minnesota and the other in Louisiana. He did, however, receive an update on Dallas and insert it into the conversation.
“Yesterday (Thursday), as I watched the media accounts of the two most recent officer involved shootings, it disturbed me that once again, certain members of the media and political leaders jumped to conclusions without all the facts and turned an officer involved shooting into another divisive race controversy or an assault on police officers,” Ware said. “In each case, the fact is an individual was shot by a police officer in the conduct of his official duties. That is the fact that deserves investigation. Yes, there are concerns about what the video images show, but that is just one piece of evidence in the case. As in the case of all officer involved shootings, a thorough investigation of all the facts is underway and will uncover what took place, why it took place and whether or not the actions of the officers were in accordance with the law or in violation of the law. If found to be contrary to the letter of the law, there is a process within the criminal justice to prosecute the offenders.”
Ware said rhetoric that creates division, spews hatred, and excites violence has no place in a civilized society and no place in the United States of America.
“We as a nation, cannot turn every adversarial encounter into a ‘We vs. Them’ mentality. This nation needs leadership in the worst way. Whether it involves gender, religion, political affiliation or race, we must come together in a democratic way to solve social problems, not stand pat on our own beliefs and refuse to listen to both sides of the aisle,” Ware said. “Yes, some of those social problems adversely affect people of color. Yet, instead of working to solve these social problems, many have resigned themselves to be closed minded and place blame on others instead of working together to find solutions. Our nation was founded upon democratic principles. Our nation has also come too far in race relations since the days of Martin Luther King to allow that mentality to destroy the foundation that was laid over the last 50 years.”
Ware referred to the destruction of that foundation as what occurs each and every time a politician or a media outlet blames race for the actions of others.
“Yes, the officers that fired the gun may be white. Yes, the person shot may be black. Should the fact that the individual shot was black be a distinction of concern? Absolutely! It should not be the sole factor that is immediately exploited to generate hate and discontent,” Ware said.
Ware spoke of the divisiveness that exists in the United States.
“I went to sleep shortly after listening to the comments of the President of the United States. I went to bed disheartened that yet again, people in positions of leadership in this great nation, people whose words influence so many others actions, emotions, and beliefs, missed an opportunity; an opportunity to build a nation, not divide, to wait until the facts come out, not immediately place blame, and an opportunity to address the real social problems facing our communities,” Ware said. “We should be looking at the social ills that negatively impact young African American males and give them cause to carry guns or commit crimes. For it is these problems that increase poverty, drug abuse, mental health problems, and lead to the need for police enforcement in the first place; enforcement that often creates anger and animosity towards police in minority communities, communities that need our protection the most.
Ware said it is that anger and animosity that appears to have been the motivation for the attack on Dallas area law enforcement officers he says were protecting the First Amendment rights of citizens to draw attention to the very social concerns that are leading to the worst racial divide in this country since the 1960s.
“As I wrote to all of my employees this morning, every community needs an effective police force and an effective police force needs its community. I think we are more fortunate in Portsmouth than many communities. Generally speaking, we have a good relationship with our community. Through continued professionalism we can continue to foster good relations with the citizens we serve in the City of Portsmouth,” Ware said. “Law enforcement is made up of men and women from different faiths, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Most importantly they are family.”
Ware went on to say – “As members of the law enforcement family, our officers serve this community with unwavering commitment, but that job gets harder each time incidents like this occur. It is demoralizing. When one mourns, they all mourn. They hurt. They feel the negative effects of the anti-police rhetoric permeating our society. Of equal importance, their family members feel it as well.”
Ware said police officers need to feel the support of the community.
“I know there are many community members that support our officers. In times like this, it is good to remind them. They need that reassurance in difficult times,” Ware said. “The greatest show of support is for leaders at all levels of our society to work together to find a way to bridge the differences between the police profession and the communities we serve; to find a way to resolve the social issues facing our nation so they do not rise to the level of legitimizing violence. Leaders at every level of society must choose their words wisely so that words do not incite violence, create false hope, and further divide our nation.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.