Where is respect between police and citizens?
By Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
Oh, how we wish there were easy answers to what's happening between cops and citizens these days. Unfortunately, there are no simple solutions to the troubling lack of trust that exists.
What we witnessed at a South Florida Arby's this week — where a drive-thru clerk allegedly refused to serve a Pembroke Pines police officer — is the latest example of that lack of trust and respect.
According to the police report, the clerk asked his boss to run the officer's credit card because he was busy with other customers. The manager told the policewoman his employee refused to ring her up because she was a cop. The clerk said the comment was a joke that backfired. "We don't hate cops," he said. "We're just trying to get people out of the drive-through."
But in the tinderbox of police-community relations these days, the remark ignited an understandable firestorm.
"I am offended and appalled that an individual within our community would treat a police officer in such a manner," Pembroke Pines Police chief Dan Giustino said in a statement.
Arby's responded swiftly and appropriately. It fired the manager, suspended the clerk, issued a public apology and offered a free combo meal to any uniformed officer in Broward and Miami-Dade counties on Friday. "We take this isolated matter very seriously as we respect and support police officers in our local communities," spokesman James Rollins said in a statement.
In today's climate, you can understand why police officers — and everyone, really — are on edge.
Two dozen police have been killed in the line of duty this year. Most recently, an officer in Texas was killed execution-style while pumping his patrol car with gas.
Police lay part of the blame on the Black Lives Matter protest movement, which found its roots in the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, and gained steam after Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Mo., after reaching into a white police officer's car.
Some of the kindling also comes from the videos caught by citizens on cellphone cameras. We saw it in New York, where a police officer's choke hold on a man arrested for selling cigarettes killed him. And we saw it again in Charleston, S.C., where a cellphone camera caught a police officer shooting a man who appeared to be running away.
Closer to home this year, we saw a video of Fort Lauderdale Police Officer Victor Ramirez pushing and slapping a homeless man to the ground, and another of Broward Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Johnson dragging a mentally incompetent woman through a courthouse hallway by the shackles around her ankles.
We give our police tremendous power over us, and such videos are changing the way we see police officers.
Still, the vast majority of police officers are good and responsible people who are trying to do a necessary and dangerous job that 99 percent of us wouldn't want to do. If you are in trouble or find yourself in a dangerous situation, you're not going to call an Arby's clerk for help.
Something's got to give, which is why it's good to see two local members of Congress — Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Alcee Hastings — host roundtables designed to surface solutions for easing tensions before they bubble over.
Other actions can be taken, too, to build stronger bonds between police and, especially, citizens of color.
Body cameras can help. They aren't the only solution, but police forces already using them find they provide added protection for both citizens and police. Several South Florida cities, like Hallandale Beach, Coral Springs and Pembroke Pines, are launching pilot programs. More would help.
Independent investigations of police shootings are a necessity. Police investigating police does not build community trust. A recent investigation by The Palm Beach Post and WPTV NewsChannel 5 found 25 percent of the people shot by Palm Beach Sheriff's deputies since 2000 were unarmed, and PBSO investigators cleared deputies in 97 percent of fatal shootings.
Talk with your kids at home. Explain to them that police protect people. They are not your enemy. The rhetoric starts at home.
Unless we do something, this dangerous lack of respect and trust will continue to grow.
This week, a relatively small incident at Arby's made that clear.