Bob Just: As Antifa, other radicals rail against police, here's an apology to men and women in blue

When you are disrespected, we are disrespected.

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To officers of the law:

We all want friends who will stick with us in hard times, friends to protect our back, especially when things go really bad.

Yet despite everything you have done for us, we have not stood with you during these nightmare weeks following the tragic death of George Floyd. We either forgot who we are and what we owe you as our protectors, or we watched helplessly, not knowing what to do to defend you.

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You had a right to expect better behavior on our part, not just because so many of you died for us on 9/11, faithfully serving to the end, and not just because you stayed on duty during the height of the pandemic, but because you do your duty every day, often unnoticed and underappreciated, standing guard over us.

Please forgive us for not standing guard over you. You deserve better, much better. Because the truth is, we honor you, just as we honor our armed services who also “protect and serve.”

Now while some of our cities descend into chaos, it is time and well-passed time to question our behavior so we don’t ever put you or our nation through this again, even when the worst happens – and it will, because human beings are flawed and sometimes do evil things.

But there’s never an excuse for betraying almost a million police officers for the actions of a few –  and certainly not for the action of one. And there’s never an excuse for city leaders to undermine their own police departments, which are our police departments, responsible for our safety.

We are paying a terrible price now as the number of injured and dead officers mounts. We watch thugs mock and attack you, scoffing at our laws. We see blood on your face, and we feel the pain of it because we are the ones who in our complicity or our silence allowed this conflict. You represent us – all of us – so our failure to support you is a true American shame.

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We have emboldened lawlessness. When you are disrespected, we are disrespected. When you are attacked, we are attacked. And the truth is, when you die in the line of duty, a part of us dies too.

We see your final picture in the news, so young, so full of potential – and our hearts break for your spouse and your children. We want to look away just as we do when those in our military die for us – it is too hard to see your face, and yet we must look. Your life must be real to us because your sacrifice is real, and you call us to be worthy of it.

How can we betray a trust like that? And how can we forget your everyday sacrifices, especially in high-crime cities – the endless pressures and dangerous nights, knowing that all it takes is, “wrong place, wrong time.” And just that fast, you could be lying on the ground bleeding to death while your partner calls desperately for help – if she is not lying there bleeding with you.

Death is not your only fear. In one quick minute, one wrong decision under intense pressure, though innocent, you can find your name all over the news not as a hero but as a media villain, a dehumanized “symbol of hate.” And it can be months before the truth is known.

Still, in that single action, a flash of seconds – your life is ruined, your hopes go up in flames, your family ends up hiding out in fear that someone who hates the symbol you have become might find out your address or worse, post your address on the internet for anyone to see.

But now – hard to imagine – you also know that if any other police officer makes a mistake anywhere in the country or commits an act of genuine racism, you could be blamed by some stranger who believes in “collective guilt” – and is out for “revenge.” So even a quiet night on duty could be your last night alive.

Even now, the death of George Floyd is too heart-breaking to think about, but more so, because so many of us turned it into a double tragedy by blaming all police officers.

Collective guilt is an irrational kind of judgment. We made you feel that somehow you are at fault for an act committed hundreds of miles away by someone you don’t even know.

What kind of people have we become to allow you to be persecuted this way? Please forgive us. Too many of us were caught up in the terrible emotions of the moment. We just didn’t know how to respond to our grief.

Even now, the death of George Floyd is too heart-breaking to think about, but more so, because so many of us turned it into a double tragedy by blaming all police officers.

Yes, we were outraged by video images of a man pleading for his life only moments before he lost it, crying out for his mother. Those nine minutes of video horrified the nation.

And yes, it tapped into our fears about the kind of people who abuse power, and then into deeper fears of racism among those kinds of people.

We Americans know that judging someone by the color of their skin is the height of injustice. We also know that collective judgement of an individual is the worst kind of bigotry. By saying “those police” may as well have been saying, those Jews, those Blacks, those Hispanics, those Whites. Who of us wants to be the victim of that hostility? It is un-American. And we must reject it wherever we find it.

Of course, it can be hard not to judge, especially for young people as they watched that terrible video. What must they be thinking now as they watch the news? The truth is that most of us are ignorant of the reality you police officers face every day. But our political and cultural leaders do not have that excuse.

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Our mayors know the reality of gangs oppressing the most vulnerable in our neighborhoods. Our police chiefs know what their men and women face every day to combat that evil and many others.

And our media know all the statistics – and they know that the real story is not ultimately about racism but about human misery, and about what good people – including our police officers – do every day to rescue neighbors from broken communities, broken homes and broken lives.

The truth is that our first responders are essential to society. They hold us together in difficult times, from firefighters to EMTs. But among them, our police officers are a breed apart. You see the worst in human nature every day, and you can’t ignore it – because you are our one defense against it. Thank you!

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I am confident I speak for most Americans in saying this: We have no justice without the law and no peace without officers of the law.

Please accept our apology – and our respect and appreciation for all that you do for us. I know there are hundreds of millions of Americans who join me in saying these things, Americans of every economic, social, religious, ethnic and racial background. Don’t forget us. We will not forget you.