Home/Rod Dreher/Silence Of The Front-Row Witnesses

Silence Of The Front-Row Witnesses

RyanJLane/GettyImages

A reader who ask that I withhold his name, and who is not white (you’ll see why this may be important), writes:

I was once a first responder. Over ten years ago, I responded to a call at a women’s shelter for a mother who’d been savagely struck in the face by her husband (or ex-). When we arrived on scene, she was lying down and her face was severely swollen and she was in great pain. Worst of all, she had a her two young children with her (a boy and a girl), neither of whom seemed in any emotional distress, but were also probably too young to understand what was going on.

Appalled by the severity of her injury, I had her immobilized for the transport to the hospital. Upon her arrival, she had her head and neck restraints removed and the nurse asked if she was able to move her head, which the woman struggled to do. It got uncomfortable to watch and, after turning things over, we left the room and the patient to, hopefully, the appropriate care.

Like most events in this line of work, you compartmentalize and all but forget these incidents. Years later, however, as racial tensions began to boil up again, I thought back to that incident and realized how troubled I was by it. It wasn’t just the fact that a woman was so severely beaten and her children had to witness their mother in such agony, but that this sort of thing was happening on a regular basis, yet, nobody really has any idea.

What I mean by this is that Whites are cited as the greatest threat to Black life in this country. Yet, I can guarantee you, the person who struck that Black woman wasn’t White. I don’t know for sure, of course, but I don’t believe in narratives. I believe in statistics. In all likelihood, the person who hurt that woman was a Black man.

When academics, elites, the media, and left-wingers of the public criticize law enforcement, they often treat them as ignorant of or even perpetuating the horrors of the reality of life for Blacks and other racial/ethnic minorities in this country. But that’s not what I’ve seen and I’m fairly certain that’s not broadly the case. If anything, it’s the cops and other first responders who are often the front-row witnesses to these terrible acts that disproportionately affect people in the Black demographic. Worse, the cops are often the only defense they have against their predators.

Where are the academics, elites, media folks, and others? Are they the ones who respond to these incidents, often times exposing themselves to the risk of death and injury to prevent bloodshed? Are they the ones who take them to the hospital and treat their injuries? Are they the ones who, afterwards, have to write up reports about what they witnessed, testify in court, deal with the possibility of a less-than-desirable legal outcome, and try to forget about everything they saw and heard so they can move on to handling the next tragedy? Would any of them want to do this? If they don’t, that’s fine. But if they want to pass judgment, shouldn’t they at least bother themselves to learn something about the people who do the job and the reality they deal with?

This is what infuriates me most – the willful ignorance and complete lack of interest in finding out what the facts are. These people live inside bubbles and trust only what their emotions are telling them. And it makes sense – violence, after all, is the province of emotion. So why’s it so difficult for them to understand that even the most poised police officer can’t always let everything roll off? Isn’t that what we want out of our cops – humanity, not robotics?

I mentioned Sam Harris once, I’ll mention him again – he was absolutely correct when he said the reaction to George Floyd’s death was a moral panic. People are so convinced they saw a murder happen on video and they’re not sure how else to react other than to press the self-destruct button while scurrying their cowardly selves to the escape pods. I’m an atheist, but may God have mercy on their souls.

Intense.

UPDATE: Reader Porter Harding:

I had the pleasure to do a ride-along with the Atlanta Police Department some years ago. It was part of a Citizens Police Academy, programs that I understand certain police jurisdictions provide to increase transparency and trust, and even form a type of community liaisonship with civilians. I had the pleasure of riding along with a true professional, a black officer riding solo in the domain of Atlanta’s roughest police district, Zone 1, home of the Bluff and just about all of Atlanta’s homicides. When I showed up to the precinct to learn the rules of the ride along and don a kevlar vest under my clothing, I was struck by how the mostly young, universally fit young black and white officers (many I assume fresh from the Sandbox) getting briefed looked at me with suspicion. “Who is this skinny white boy? He better not be here from the Occupy movement…” I was sure they were thinking. This was during early Occupy/anti-police mobilization in the nation. I had come with an open mind.

What I experienced during this one shift, this one day on the job for this officer, was truly eye-opening. The night was busy and we responded to calls ranging from elder abuse, robbery, armed assault, assistance with multiple arrests for drug and probation offenses, domestic abuse (where I helped entertain a little toddler who’s grandmother had been beaten in front of her by her grandfather; admittedly, a trained social worker would have been a welcome addition to the officer in this case, but most social workers aren’t on call in this neighborhood late at night…), a foot pursuit of an armed suspect through a dilapidated section of public housing in which the police were berated by the inhabitants and were forced to run through hallways and stairwells booby-trapped with human feces (I was told to stay in the car; the suspect escaped through a secret passage of some sort; the housing has since been demolished), and guns were drawn on at least three occasions. Every victim and every suspect during my ride along was black, granted, Zone 1 is majority black. The officers in Zone 1 are majority black, the police leadership is majority black. However, the people residing in Zone 1, many of whom desperately rely on the police for their safety and for the preservation of their homes and businesses were often very leery of cooperating with providing additional information with the police. I suspect a combination of fear of local retaliation and distrust in the greater justice system (it being better to just deal with a family-member or neighbor’s bad behavior than incur retaliation or have that person taken out of the pool of potential providers).

Needless to say, what I witnessed during that one shift indelibly changed my impression of police officers from one of suspicion or indifference to one of rather profound respect. The job was dangerous! The thankses were nonexistent. The pay ain’t great. The repercussions of a mistake (we are all human) are huge and only getting more daunting (the disgrace that is Fulton County DA Paul Howard is truly shocking). These professionals witness the most troubled underbelly of society and are tasked with not looking away but actively engaging, the part of society that armchair elites and whackademic deconstructionists may only perceive theoretically from their smug perches. I don’t want to think of the PTSD these first responders have and the demoralization they must currently feel due to our present insurgent problem. I can only offer them my support and my thanks.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

leave a comment

Latest Articles