On Monday, Tampa Police Department Chief Brian Dugan told the media his force was running on empty.
“The police, we always have everybody’s back and nobody has our back,” he said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“Right now the officers feel like they can’t win. And I would have to agree with them.”
There were several reasons the Florida police chief gave for the depleted morale, including the difficulty of walking the fine line between giving protesters space and having a presence at events that can turn volatile.
And then there was the assault on Saturday.
Tampa police were called out to an intersection at 1 a.m. Saturday morning on a report of shots fired and a victim down, according to WFTS-TV.
Police say there weren’t any gunshots and there wasn’t any victim down. Instead, there was, by all accounts, a massive crowd waiting to ambush them, throwing bottles and glass at the officers and jumping on police vehicles.
“There were hundreds of them,” Dugan said, Fox News reported. “Hundreds. We actually ended up having to call every single police officer that was available that night to respond there, from New Tampa to South Tampa.”
“It’s an ambush. I have no other way to describe it,” Dugan said. “When there are that many people out there and clearly no one had been shot. It was just a set-up to get the cops there.”
WTVT-TV reported over 100 officers had to be called to the scene to assist.
Somehow, only two were injured. One was hit on the side of the head, the other in the back of the head with a bottle.
One person was taken into custody for resisting with violence, failure to obey a lawful order and violation of probation. More arrests are possible, Dugan said, once they look through dash camera footage from the police cars.
“There have been some violent acts. People are acting out. They think they can get away with doing whatever they want toward the cops. We’re going to use the necessary force to take people into custody. I think that’s what people need to understand,” Dugan said.
Tampa wasn’t the only city in Florida where criminal anti-police activity was on display over the past few days.
Five hours later on Saturday, in the northeast corner of the state, police responded to a possible hanging off of a highway overpass. What they found was this:
— KHQ Local News (@KHQLocalNews) June 21, 2020
The mannequin was wearing a pig mask and an ersatz New York City Police Department uniform, and had the letters “KKK” scrawled on it.
“The incident that occurred this morning depicting the mock lynching of a mannequin dressed in what appeared to be the uniform of a law enforcement officer is extremely disturbing,” Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said.
“Both the tactics and props used were a deliberate attempt to exasperate an anti-police sentiment and drive a divide in our community.
“This incident was carried out by people wanting to undermine our dedicated efforts to keep our city safe. Too many good citizens are working with us to keep our community safe through active partnerships, and frank conversations about the challenges we all face. This type of act will not be tolerated by our agency or our community, and we will work together to hold those responsible accountable.”
This doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
America’s police officers are in a precarious position. On one hand, they’re being asked to handle a tidal wave of protests (and attendant riots) that this country hasn’t seen since the 1960s. On the other hand, those protests are about them — and not only that, they’re partially about painting an element of law enforcement as systemically racist and prone to violence.
The situation in Los Angeles is the best demonstration of the problem. At the height of the protests, its police force was working seven days a week. However, the city couldn’t pay all the overtime that officers had racked up, offering them time off instead.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Los Angeles was promoting an initiative that would shift up to $150 million from the police to community programs as part of a defunding scheme.
The media is more than willing to amplify the message that our police are automatons — nothing more than white supremacy with a nightstick and a gun, always ready to unleash these on people of color.
Not only is this wildly inaccurate on its face, it also inspires actions that go beyond just protests. This is one of them.
It’s difficult to see a crowd of hundreds ganging up on police after a fake 911 call or an effigial hanging of a pig-faced police mannequin from a Jacksonville overpass in any other time.
This is cultural rot — and our police are getting the worst of it.
“How would you like to be a police officer that arrests somebody, that could end up spurring more riots in the city just by doing your job?” Chief Dugan told reporters Monday. “Whether you are right or wrong, it doesn’t matter right now. No one is listening and any justified action is getting twisted.”
Justifiable concerns don’t justify these kinds of actions.
When we see this kind of physical violence and vitriol directed at our law enforcement, it’s perhaps best to step back and ask who we are and what we’re doing.
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