“I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers.”
— Philemon 1:4
Sometimes it doesn’t take very long to gain a little perspective.
Last weekend, my column covered Beebe Police Chief Wayne Ballew being given a ticket for passing a stopped school bus in November and that not being made public until last week. The same time I was writing that column, five Memphis police officers were being charged with murder and video of their brutal beating of a motorist Jan. 7 was being released by authorities.
What happened in Memphis doesn’t change the fact that I firmly believe public figures, especially those in authority positions, should address bad news head on instead of waiting until it goes public on its own, making it look like it was covered up.
However, it is a reminder that there are much worse things our law enforcement could be doing than not noticing that a bus had stopped on the other side of the road and driving past even though it had its flashing lights on and stop signs engaged. (Yes, that could have been much worse, too, if a child had been darting across the road.)
If you haven’t thanked Ballew for his service to the community, despite his error in judgment, you should take a moment to do that. Same with all of our other law enforcement officers. We depend on them to enforce the law, keep the peace and protect us as much as possible. We should let them know we appreciate the job they are doing.
That doesn’t mean they are always perfect. In the nearly nine years I’ve been editor, we’ve had two police chiefs plead guilty to crimes in federal court and reported other crimes involving officers. We even had information brought to us in the last year or so about a White County deputy kicking or stomping a fleeing suspect after the suspect got pinned under a vehicle. However, the view of why that might have happened was blocked by a vehicle so we didn’t pursue it. (Maybe we should have.)
Sometimes officers have to use force. Determining whether it is excessive isn’t always easy. They may be trying to protect themselves or others in the area, especially if someone has a weapon. According to The Associated Press, one officer claimed the 29-year-old FedEx worker who died three days after the attack had initially reached for a gun during the traffic stop. Others claim he must have been high.
Still, that isn’t any kind of justification for chasing Tyre Nichols down after he tried to flee on foot and savagely beating him for three minutes with a baton, kicks and punches. They kicked him in the head when they had him restrained, sat him up only to strike him on the back with a baton three times, punched him multiple times when he was barely able to stand upright without officers holding him up and doused him with pepper spray. Officers even can be seen fist-bumping and celebrating while Nichols is on the pavement propped against a police unit.
That’s not what we expect of our police. That’s thuggery. That’s gang activity. That’s a torturous death. That’s murder.
“As law enforcement officers, we took an oath to serve and protect our fellow citizens. What we have witnessed from some who took the same oath is anything but ‘serving and protecting,’” White County Sheriff Phillip Miller wrote on social media about what happened in Memphis. “The gross violations captured on video are horrible and cannot be condoned.
“Across our cities, states and nations, the true professionals of law enforcement do a great job daily – and we are just as outraged and saddened to see the actions of these out-of-control officers as our fellow citizens.”
Thankfully, we have not seen such atrocities by law enforcement in our county in the time I’ve been editor. Thankfully, our local “outrage” can be over a police chief getting a misdemeanor traffic violation and not immediately making it public. If you appreciate that being the case, if the Memphis barbarity also provides you with some perspective, then take a moment to show that appreciation.
This is mine. Thank you, Sheriff Miller. Thank you, Chief Ballew. Thank you, Chief Steve Hernandez. Thank you to all those who wear the uniform (and plainclothes) in our cities and county. I do appreciate what you do to lawfully protect me, my family and the rest of the residents of this county.
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