Anti-cop rhetoric goes too far

CNN poll: Americans split on anthem protests
CNN poll: Americans split on anthem protests

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Story highlights

  • James Gagliano: Lost in the NFL protests is a productive dialogue on community policing
  • While protesters and law enforcement both have legitimate grievances, police must continue to protect everyone -- even the protesters, he writes

James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and a retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University in Queens, New York. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAGagliano. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)Lost in the debate about the NFL National Anthem protests is a serious conversation about the issues driving players to take the knee. A number of African-American athletes have attempted to bring attention to what they perceive as the unequal application of justice in America and cases of police brutality against people of color.

And the original intent of the protests -- to begin a national discussion on policing in America -- has become a sad afterthought for many people, although perhaps not for law enforcement officials who feel unfairly attacked or those who feel unfairly victimized by them.
    James Gagliano
    That said, police must continue to do their jobs and not fall prey to the desire either to make their own statements or "stand down" from their sworn duties and obligations.
    And that is difficult to do. Why? Because the law enforcement profession has been under assault for some time now.

    A history of dissent

    In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Los Angeles was a hotbed of unrest between communities of color and police. Rap artists like N.W.A. and Ice-T released hit songs attacking the police -- "F*** Tha Police" and "Cop Killer," reflecting the growing animosity toward the city's police force.
    Not surprisingly, the police unions did not take kindly to these songs, and they threatened concert shutdowns and arrests.
    When Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, was shot by New York police who mistook his wallet for a gun in February 1999, Bruce Springsteen wrote and performed a song, "American Skin," that included the lyric "41 shots," a reference to the number of rounds discharged by the police at Diallo. This angered members of the police union who threatened to boycott security at his concerts.
    Most recently, when Beyoncé performed her sociopolitical song, "Formation," at Super Bowl 50's halftime show in 2016, many police officials condemned the performance, calling it "divisive" and threatened boycotts of her future shows. Her musical performance featured backup dancers dressed in Black Panther attire from the 1960s, while the video for the song made several references to the Black Lives Matter movement.
    In other words, Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, isn't the first -- and likely won't be the last -- to take issue with law enforcement. And, he, like his many predecessors, certainly has a point. There have been real instances of police brutality. To deny that this doesn't occur or pretend it isn't an important issue facing us is disingenuous.
    But Kaepernick may not be in the best position to lead the resistance. He certainly didn't contribute to bridging the divide by being photographed at a 49ers practice in September 2016 wearing socks with images of cops depicted as pigs. The offensive symbol for police dates back to political protests during the 1960s and still frustrates members of law enforcement today.
    And that same month Kaepernick announced he would donate $1 million of his own money to different organizations. On June 2, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweeted a release from the Colin Kaepernick Foundation that included a breakdown of the first $700,000 of his pledge: $25,000 was earmarked for "Assata's Daughters," an organization honoring the daughters of convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard (Assata Shakur), who escaped from prison and fled to Cuba, where she currently resides beyond the reach of US extradition efforts. For many in law enforcement, she remains a particularly sore subject.
    And we must remember that policing itself is a difficult business and not everyone is fit to handle its demands and its perils. Every traffic stop on a lonely stretch of highway and every responding visit related to a domestic violence call carries certain risks. And working in most inner cities in America -- where violent crime is more apt to occur -- can certainly be more dangerous for police than an assignment to the suburbs.

    Protest isn't the answer

    As a result of this raging debate, many in law enforcement are frustrated. Some have whispered to me about advocating for a "walk out" during sporting events when they are assigned to provide security. I've heard officers ponder the notion of a sudden onset of "blue flu," where many of them suddenly call in "sick" at the same time.
    But these are not honorable responses. We're sworn to protect and serve, and that oath -- much like the First Amendment that protects the speech we find the most repugnant -- demands we perform our duties in the service of folks whose speech, actions and protests are counter to our beliefs.
    Yes, we sacrifice a lot to be law enforcement professionals. Yes, we endure unfair criticisms from less-than-grateful recipients of our protections. But our own "protests" -- not doing our jobs -- is not a viable response to the athletes' protests.
    I certainly disagree with some of Kaepernick's sentiments. But, I am a former law enforcement professional, and I would still take a bullet for him. That's the highest form of honorable and noble service that we can offer --- going into harm's way for those we're duty bound to protect.
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    And I know the vast majority of my former colleagues feel the same way. The Thin Blue Line is predicated on standing between our citizenry and those who would seek to do them harm -- regardless of color or creed.
    So, those officers and federal agents stationed at professional sports contests should simply continue to do their jobs. They're there to detect potential terrorist threats. They're there to disarm someone who enters with a weapon and whose purpose is to harm Americans. They're there to intervene when a drunken fan menaces a family. And they're there to escort the players and coaches safely from the field of play after a tight contest that might have concluded with some bettor on the wrong side of his parlay.
    Leave the social media rants to others. Let's continue to honor our oath and do our jobs.