America’s screens and airwaves are once again flooded with coverage of police-involved deaths, and all feverish commentary that always follows such tragedies. We’ve had the wall-to-wall coverage of the Minneapolis trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, just found guilty on all counts in the death of George Floyd last year, the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minn., by an officer who meant to deploy a Taser, and now a fresh controversy over a police officer in Columbus, Ohio, killing a teenage girl armed with a knife who was attempting to stab someone. Now, law enforcement is at the center of a heated national conversation. And the rhetoric is only getting hotter.
Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, declared: “It wasn’t an accident. Policing in our country is inherently & intentionally racist . . . No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can’t be reformed.” This is an unhelpful sentiment, to say the least, but especially shameful to utter at a time when some in law enforcement have been laying to rest their own.
“We’re told time and time again that these incidents that Black Americans are experiencing are because of ‘bad apples,’ right?” said Daily Show host Trevor Noah, using a phrase he believes is used to dismiss police misconduct. “My question, though, is where are the good apples?” he asks.
Trevor Noah and Rashida Talib have a right to voice their opinions — just as I do. So here’s mine: These celebrities and politicians couldn’t walk a mile in the shoes of these officers or do what these brave men and women do every day. We’re talking about people who put their lives on the line for us on a regular basis without so much as a thank you from the national media.
Indeed, media coverage plays a large role here. So a plausible defense of such voices as Trevor Noah’s asking, “Where are the good apples?” is because we don’t hear their stories nearly enough. So, for once, let’s hear some of these stories.
Here’s one that took place on a stretch of highway outside Las Cruces, N.M. There, on February 4, Officer Darian Jarrott of the New Mexico State Police was shot at point-blank range by a drug dealer, Omar Cueva, at a traffic stop. Because of a miscommunication, Officer Jarrott was facing this suspect, who was known to have a violent criminal past, by himself. When Cueva pointed a gun pointed in his face, Jarrott did not even draw his own weapon, but seemed to have peacefully convinced Cueva to hand over his rifle — until Cueva changed his mind and fired. He shot Officer Jarrott multiple times and left him for dead.
Then there’s the case of Tampa, Fla., Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen. Last month, he stopped a drunk driver (barreling down the highway at over 100 miles per hour toward oncoming traffic) from slamming head-on into a young woman’s car by placing his car between them. Madsen, a father of three and beloved husband, didn’t survive the impact. As of today, there has been no mention of him on CNN.com.
Very few in the national media seem willing to say Jarrott’s or Madsen’s names on air or to speak to their stories. Their deaths have been covered locally with occasional stories posted on some online outlets, but there have been no panels or legal experts summoned to discuss them at great length on cable news. Our outrage-driven media culture doesn’t have a place for these stories. When they are acknowledged, it’s usually in passing or to highlight a problem with law-enforcement procedures, training, and now funding, but rarely (if ever) the bravery of these men and women.
But maybe America is thinking about police funding the wrong way. Maybe our police agencies need to be better funded, especially in their approach to training. We now know that across the country a majority of Americans oppose the radical idea of defunding our police. As an officer in the U.S. Army, I received some of the best training possible and was able to perform at high levels in the line of duty because as a nation, we’ve made considerable investments in our military. The current culture favors “defunding” the police — a backwards idea that would lead to fewer resources for training, lower retention rates of seasoned officers, and more opportunity for violent criminals. A recipe for disaster.
According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 2020 was one of the deadliest years for police officers in American history. The leading cause of death in the line of duty was COVID-19, but being shot and killed on the job came in second. Now is not the time to be calling for “no more policing,” which Representative Tlaib did just days after the funeral ceremony for the second U.S. Capitol Police officer to die this year as a result of protecting her and her fellow members of Congress.
Instead, we should recognize the heroism of officers like Darian Jarrott and the cost to the family he leaves behind. We should have a media willing to cover the heroics of the men and women in blue. Such coverage would show that police officers honorably fulfilling their responsibilities, the “good apples” Trevor Noah doesn’t think are real, far outnumber the “bad apples” and the mistakes. And we must invest in more and better training for law-enforcement officers in order to stop future tragedies before they happen.