Fraternal disorder

Now that the smoke is clearing over the crater FOP President Dave Mutchler’s letter bomb blew in police-community relations, we need to assess the damage and figure out how to build the best partnership possible. Failure is not an option after a recent spike in violent crime and this disgraceful, nationwide newsflash last Thursday: Peace officer declares war on critics.

Outraged by the stereotype of police as aggressive, sanctimonious, condescending, presumptuous, entitled, dehumanizing, abusive and rabid, Dave Mutchler wrote an open letter that simultaneously repudiates and — to several critics — validates the stereotype. The two-page diatribe went viral, in part, because of its threatening tone: “To the sensationalists, liars and race-baiters — we are done with you … Now your rhetoric, lies and hate puts all of us, police officers and citizens alike, in danger … If your behavior or untruths causes harm to us or the public, we will make every attempt to have you investigated, charged and prosecuted at the local state or federal level. Your idiocy and lies are what caused the destruction in Ferguson and other cities around the country and we won’t be tolerating that here.”

Mutchler was most livid with witnesses whose accounts were at odds with video surveillance of a local officer fatally shooting an attacker wielding a flag pole. Public opinion decisively supported the officer’s use of deadly force. Scant criticism was dissipating when Mutchler alleged the witnesses “flat out lied to the media after a critical incident …” and supposedly endangered “all of us.”

Considering that people’s experiences, attitudes, opinions and beliefs influence their perceptions of events and messages, it seems presumptuous (if not reckless) to call them liars. It seems equally hysterical to disparage their claims or grievances as “rhetoric, lies and hate” or a danger.

Mutchler’s missive, by contrast, seemed bitter, malicious and incendiary. It ignited a wildfire of criticism. Kriston Capps of the The Atlantic CityLab seized on the warning to “Consider yourselves on notice” as evidence that official resentment of “criticism, even just questions following police shootings is so great that police unions are lashing out, proactively, preemptively, against the residents they are sworn to serve.”

Others noted the irony (or hypocrisy) of an officer who has sworn to uphold the Constitution yet seeks to infringe the free speech rights of fellow sensationalists.

Evidently, Mutchler doesn’t understand why the First Amendment is so vital. It’s a safety valve, a non-violent outlet for the robust and unfettered release of steam. When you can’t stand the heat or come to despise the messenger, exit before somebody gets hurt — with a legacy that commands respect. Because you can’t demand it.

LMPD Chief Steve Conrad poetically denounced Mutchler’s fear-fest by affirming the vital role of  humanity and humility. “We must always treat everyone with respect and dignity,” he said in a statement. “By doing so, we earn their trust, which is essential to our success in policing this great community.”

Mayor Greg Fischer didn’t address the FOP’s creepy admonition to critics and reformers galvanized by controversial uses of force in major U.S. cities. Instead, he dismissed the letter as contrary to the sentiment of the citizenry.

In a failed attempt to subdue the uproar, Mutchler convened a news conference and insisted that no one should feel threatened even though he doubled down on the ominous promises to the one-eyed monsters if they trash his frat. The silver lining of this dark cloud is that we’re getting a sense of the scope of a problem that’s been eroding crucial relations. Maybe this culture of criticism is the logical consequence of a relationship reduced mostly to adversarial interactions (traffic issues). Perhaps the proliferation of firearms, gun violence and ambushes have made policing feel insufferably stressful, hazardous and thankless. Maybe a few rogue cops who are crispy-fried but can’t be fired keep abusing power and the protection of insiders who need to turn them out.

To the extent that the public and police remain estranged, safety will suffer. Now that the eyes of the nation are upon us, maybe we can unite in the spirit of civil discourse, turn down heat and turn up the light until we settle on a world-class, compassionate, sustainable partnership for peace in the valley.

You may now listen to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” for motivation to bring some lovin’ (and understanding) here
today.