Imagine the outrage you would feel going to a restaurant and being told you won’t be served because of your race, your ethnicity, your religion, or some other aspect of your identity. This hurtful practice was all too common in some parts of the South decades ago, targeting African-Americans. Thankfully, civil rights protests prompted governments at all levels to outlaw such blatant, unjust and frankly immoral discrimination.
Police officers enforce laws against discrimination and an untold number of other laws, keeping our communities safe and protecting the rights and lives of us all. Yet as a recent outrageous incident at a McDonald’s restaurant in Henrico County in Virginia showed, law enforcement officers themselves can be targeted for hateful discrimination.
In the incident in Virginia a few days ago, a uniformed officer with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries says that after he paid for his food he was denied service at a McDonald’s drive-thru window by an employee who told him: “I ain’t serving no police.”
Officer Scott Naff, who has spent the past 25 years in law enforcement, was served a few minutes later by another employee. After a Facebook post by the officer’s wife about the incident went viral, the owner of the McDonald’s franchise issued a statement saying: “We regret this situation as it goes against our standards of providing a welcoming experience to everyone, and we have taken the appropriate action to resolve this situation.” Naff’s wife told “Fox and Friends” this morning that she was informed the employee has been fired.
Sadly, this wasn't an isolated incident. Over the past few years there have been many accounts of officers being denied service at restaurants and other businesses — such as in Florida, Minnesota and Texas — simply because they chose to risk their lives in service of their communities.
Earlier this month, during the funeral procession for New York City Police Officer Miosotis Familia, a young man blared an obscene anti-police song from his balcony onto the mourners below. Repeated attempts to stop the song were unsuccessful and thousands of grieving officers and the family of the fallen were subjected to ridicule on top of their grief. Officer Familia, a mother of three, was murdered while she sat in her police vehicle July 5 – shot in the head for no reason other than she was a police officer.
Admittedly, getting denied service at a restaurant is not the worst thing that can happen to a police officer or anyone else. But the far too widespread hatred for police officers, illustrated by the restaurant incidents, can lead to actions that are lot worse – such as the tragic deaths of Officer Familia and other law enforcement officers.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Fund reports that last year 135 law enforcement officers around the U.S. died in the line of duty – the highest number in five years, and up from 123 officers in 2015. Sixty-four of the officers who lost their lives in 2016 were fatally shot, including 21 killed in ambush-style attacks, the highest number in over two decades.
We’ve all seen news stories and demonstrations that often follow when someone is killed at the hands of police. Those incidents certainly need to be thoroughly investigated and officers need to be prosecuted when warranted. But in almost two decades of law enforcement I have found that virtually all police officers are dedicated to saving lives, not taking them, and put themselves in harm’s way to get criminals off the street and keep us safe.
We must never forget that members of our nation’s law enforcement community are essential to the maintenance of a stable and civil society. They represent the fine line between order and chaos.
Respect for the men and women who protect and serve our communities, often at tremendous personal sacrifice, is merely an extension of the respect that we must show to one another as citizens and human beings. Behind the badge and uniform that officers wear you’ll find extraordinarily decent people – mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters. They’re not perfect, but they deserve to be treated like you or I would want to be treated, as human beings with the same rights we all are privileged to enjoy in our great nation.
Scott G. Erickson is the Founder and President of Americans in Support of Law Enforcement.