For many years, the answer little boys would give when asked what they want to be when they grow up has been “I want to be a policeman.” They recognized that the police are protectors, friends, the people who put their lives on the line every day to protect society.
Today, however, the police officer’s job has suddenly become much more dangerous. Police are themselves under fire, battling growing resentment and distrust by large segments of a society they are sworn to protect.
Recently, many have cited a rise in resentment against police and authority figures as the cause of the wave of anti-police violence. What should be our attitude towards authority?
In late August, Harris County (Texas) sheriff’s deputy Darren Goforth was ambushed and killed at a suburban gas station. While fueling his patrol car, a lone gunman walked up to him and shot him in the back of the head, then shot him repeatedly as he lay dying. Goforth, 47, left a wife and two children.
One week later, New York Police Department officer Brian Moore was shot to death when he stopped to investigate a man suspected of carrying a gun on a New York street. Just 25, he left a wife and two small children. The young officer had already been awarded two medals for meritorious service.
Near Atlanta, Fulton County police officer Terrance Green was killed in another ambush-style attack by a man who assaulted a group of officers after having “gone on a rampage” throughout south Fulton County, Georgia.
“War on America’s police officers”
Through early November, 2015 witnessed the slaying of 34 police officers. September was a particularly deadly month, with seven officers giving their lives in the line of duty.
“War has been declared on America’s police officers,” says Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
Across the country, police feel themselves under fire, their role in society maligned, their safety threatened. Speaking for the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents more than 300,000 police officers, FOP President Chuck Canterbury said, “It’s almost a radical rhetoric causing officers to say, ‘Wait a second, I’m out here to serve the public. I saved a little old lady from a purse snatching. I gave CPR on the highway and saved somebody. Now, I’m a villain?’” (quoted by Ed Payne and Artemis Moshtaghian in CNN, “Attacks Leave Police Feeling Under Siege,” Sept. 4, 2015).
Across the United States, a string of highly publicized confrontations between police and mostly minority youth has ignited a wave of animosity against law enforcement and law enforcement officers. Major American cities are the battlegrounds, where police themselves feel threatened. A sinister piece of graffiti painted on the side of a Houston building near the Harris County police station showed a picture of a police officer with a gun pointed at his head.
Hollywood has piled on, with celebrities such as movie director Quentin Tarantino calling cops “murderers” over the recent media-hyped shootings in minority neighborhoods. Sadly, the Hollywood police haters and rabble-rousers seem to get no end of publicity in a celebrity-obsessed nation.
The Ferguson effect
Observers have noted the long-standing distrust and animosity between police and largely African-American inner city youth, especially young men. Those simmering tensions exploded after the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, a young African-American man shot by Ferguson, Missouri, police office Darren Wilson. Brown had just robbed a convenience store, and evidence showed that he attacked Wilson just before he was shot.
Brown’s death touched off a wave of racial violence in Ferguson’s minority community, resulting in night after night of widespread violence, burning and looting. Confrontations with police produced dozens of injuries to both rioting citizens and the police, tens of millions of dollars in property damage, and more than 100 arrests.
Now, what is being called “the Ferguson effect” has caused police to be far more cautious, especially when operating in minority neighborhoods. The Wall Street Journal reported this effect in chilling terms:
“Almost any police shooting of a black person, no matter how threatening the behavior that provoked the shooting, now provokes angry protests . . . Arrests in black communities are even more fraught than usual, with hostile, jeering crowds pressing in on officers and spreading lies about the encounter” (Heather McDonald, “The New Nationwide Crime Wave,” May 29, 2015)
Police more cautious, crime rates up
Across the nation, some mayors and officials in cities with heavy minority populations have themselves accused police of racial bias and excessive use of force. In New York, Mayor Bill De Blasio alleged the New York Police Department used excessive racial profiling, a charge echoed by many minority mayors across the nation.
Faced with criticism from city hall, the media, popular culture, and minority communities, police everywhere report being more cautious and reserved in their responses. One example: In many cities, officers now wait in their patrol cars for backup before confronting crime suspects.
Police cautiousness has emboldened criminals, leading to a spike in crime rates across the nation. After falling for two decades to just over 300 in 2014, murder rates in New York City more than doubled during the first six months of 2015. In Baltimore, gun violence rose more than 60 percent compared to the same period last year—its 43 homicides in May 2015 the deadliest month since 1972. Statistics show this pattern across the country in 2015.
What’s behind it?
Events in inner-city neighborhoods have shown that the right provocation can fan smoldering embers of resentment into a full-blown blaze. But is this a new development or something that has been growing for years?
History has a way of repeating itself. With the rise of highly emotional racial conflicts in the late 1960s, police began to hear themselves referred to as “pigs,” an epithet that continued in inner-city neighborhoods long after the violence subsided. White college students picked up the term, screaming it at police who were called to keep order in often-violent protests against the Vietnam War.
We can add the effects of modern mass media, whose ranks today are filled with the products of modern Western education, which denies the existence of any moral authority, and, therefore, challenges all authority.
And we have seen incidents in which law-enforcement officers have acted rashly, unwisely, abusively or even criminally, leading to unnecessary injuries and deaths. Some have been charged with and convicted of murder, manslaughter and assault, among other crimes.
Advancing their own media narrative, television news coverage of the Ferguson incident and others too often demonize police officers, painting pictures of alleged “police brutality” while totally ignoring barrages of rocks and debris hurled at officers, accompanied by taunts and threats. And usually agitators are in the background egging on the crowd.
The picture of growing disrespect and hatred toward police and authority figures is impossible to ignore. But is there an even deeper, more fundamental cause?
Few recognize, and even fewer will acknowledge, the sinister ultimate cause behind today’s violence and disrespect for authority. Your Bible identifies a powerful and evil adversary who, incredible as it may sound, casts his influence over all mankind today. “You He made alive, who . . . once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience . . .” (Ephesians 2:1-2, emphasis added throughout).
This being has the world under his sway, influencing millions in attitudes of rebellion and strife (1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9). Read our free booklet Is There Really a Devil? to learn more about this being and his influence on the world.
The prophesied solution
Human beings, it seems, have always had a problem with authority, which gives rise to the question: What should be our attitude towards authority and authority figures? The apostle Paul addressed this issue in his letter to the church in Rome:
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil” (Romans 13:1-3, New American Standard Bible). Paul went on to exhort the young pastor Timothy to give thanks for “all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Thankfully, despite today’s violence, your Bible proclaims a soon-coming time when people will live at peace, a time when God’s law will guide all of humanity. Study the prophecies of Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:6-9 and Isaiah 35:5-7. It also foretells the time when Satan, this great adversary, will be restrained—no longer able to influence mankind:
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having . . . a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years . . . and shut him up . . . so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:1-2).
At that time, when God’s long-foretold Kingdom is established on earth, Satan’s influence will be replaced with attitudes of cooperation, giving, and true justice for all. Notice in particular what the prophet Isaiah foretells of Christ in Isaiah 11: “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. . . with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth” (Isaiah 11:2-4, New American Standard Bible).
Millions who today feel, whether rightly or wrongly, that they are denied justice will be treated fairly. The entire world will respect authority and live secure, peaceful lives under the supreme law of God, which will ensure justice, peace and tranquility. God speed that day!