As a Muslim American, I want to offer some sincere advice to the good police officers of America: If you don’t start vocally denouncing the bad cops, you and every other police officer will soon be defined by the worst cops out there—if you aren’t already.
Is that fair? No. Yet it’s what the Muslim community faced after 9/11. Countless times in the years following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, people on the right—and even some on the left—called us on to denounce terrorist acts committed by Muslims.
The reaction at first by many in the Muslim community—including myself—was: Why should I have to denounce these people who I have no connection with other than sharing a faith which they have horribly perverted for their own political agenda?!
But in time, many of us realized we needed to vocally denounce the terrorists who happened to share the same faith in order to prevent our entire community being viewed as complicit—which we knew would provoke even more hate crimes and discrimination against us.
I believe the fact that Muslim American leaders publicly condemned the terrorists over the years—together with more Muslims in the media defining who we are, not just who we are not—has contributed to recent polls showing our fellow Americans having far more positive views of us than they once did.
That brings me to the police. They need to loudly and publicly reject police misconduct—especially when captured on videos that have gone viral. If not, the clichéd comment when it comes to defending the police that it’s just “a few bad apples” will be replaced by Americans believing that the entire orchard has been infected.
In fact, recent polls should alarm good police officers. For example, a 2019 Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Americans had a “great deal” or “quite a lot of trust” in the police. That may sound pretty good until you put in historical perspective. In 2004, 64 percent of Americans had a great deal of trust in our police.
It’s been sliding since then. After George Floyd’s case it’s fair to expect the 53 percent number to drop even more—especially given a poll released Tuesday that found more than two in three Americans (69 percent) say Floyd’s killing represents a broader problem within U.S. law enforcement. So much for a few bad apples.
Worse, not only don’t we hear the police vocally condemning police wrongs, we actually hear some police officers—and especially police union leaders—defending them. One of the most jaw-dropping examples came after Floyd was killed, when the head of the Minneapolis police union, Lt. Bob Kroll, sent a letter to union members where he first smeared Floyd as a “violent criminal.”
Kroll then pledged to fight to have the four officers who were involved in killing Floyd rehired by the police department. (This was before the officers were charged criminally but after the video went viral of Floyd’s death.)
On Monday, after Philadelphia police officer Joseph Bologna Jr., was charged with aggravated assault of an unarmed protester that was captured on video, did police officers denounce Bologna? No. Rather, in a display of rank arrogance, more than 100 officers—some in uniform—gathered outside the police union headquarters to publicly show their support for Bologna.
We saw a similar development in Buffalo after two officers were captured on video shoving a 75-year-old man who stumbled to the ground and hit his head on the sidewalk, cutting it open. Did officers vocally denounce this horrific conduct?
Nope. Instead, 57 members of this special unit resigned in protest of the two officers’ suspension, while other cops publicly cheered the two officers when they exited the courthouse after being charged with assaulting the older man. (It doesn’t help that on Tuesday, Donald Trump tweeted a defense of the officers as he falsely smeared the victim as being part of an antifa “set up.”)
In Brevard County, Florida, the head of the police union, Bert Gamin, stunningly posted on Facebook over the weekend that the officers in Buffalo along with six other officers in Atlanta who had been charged with excessive force in dealing with recent protests should move to Florida to work as cops there, because as Gamin put it, there’s “no spineless leadership, or dumb mayors rambling on at press conferences… we got your back!’” Gamin then added the very words Trump has been tweeting almost daily, “Law and Order.” (On Tuesday, Gamin was suspended with pay pending an investigation.)
Being a police officer is challenging, to say the least. And like Muslims in general, it’s only the bad ones who tend to get press coverage, not the overwhelming number of good ones doing their jobs, raising their families, and contributing to our society. Yes, again that, too, is unfair, but that’s the current reality.
We need to hear the good cops speak out. And that’s not as easy is sounds, as various ex-cops explained to me, noting that doing so could hurt or even derail a police officer’s career. But the alternative is not just a loss of trust from the public but potentially the loss of your jobs as people left and right are now calling for breaking up police unions, for cuts to police budgets that will result in layoffs as money is directed to other agencies, and for the more extreme measure of “defunding” entire police forces.
It’s up to the police on how to respond, but take it from this Muslim, the longer you refuse to denounce the bad cops, the worse it will be for the good ones.