To protect, and to serve


The collapse of the World Trade Center Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, ripped away the lives of not just the more than 2,750 people who died that day, but also 343 firefighters and 71 police officers.

In the 15 years since, we have lost an average of 159 officers in the line of duty across the country annually, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. That includes another 123 officers who died from 9/11 complications.

There’s no doubt, police work is dangerous. The men and women in blue put their lives on the line each and every day to protect us, and all of them deserve our gratitude.

But that doesn’t mean they’re immune to criticism. Or that every once in a while, they might be wrong.

We’ve become immune to the videos that surface on the internet, showcasing some sort of brute force a police officer inflicts on an alleged perp. We’ll watch the video, maybe comment in social media, and then go on with our lives.

Like seriously, if someone doesn’t want to get beat up by the cops, then they shouldn’t commit crimes in the first place.

Yet, that’s not how our society operates. Whether you commit a crime or not, you still have rights, including how you’re treated by arresting officers. Does that mean officers can never use force when it’s necessary? No. If their safety or the safety of others is in danger, cops absolutely should do everything reasonable to eliminate that threat. 

Sometimes that means using fists, or a night stick, or even pulling the trigger. But it should never mean doing more than what’s necessary to eliminate a specific threat. 

The 50th Precinct found a spot in the viral world of police criticism after an officer manhandled a teenager in Marble Hill. The video starts with the boy already on top of one officer, but sandwiched by a second cop on top of him.

The boy’s left hand appears to be near the bottom officer’s throat, but only for a matter of seconds. The top officer clears the hand away, and seems to have control of the teenager’s right arm.

Yet, the top officer continues to pin the teenager to the bottom patrolman, and punches the boy in the head several times.

This happened in front of a crowd of people screaming and crying out over the display, and at least one person filming with a smartphone — all out in the open.

Whether this particular incident was excessive or not, that’s for internal affairs to decide. Few if any of us have ever found ourselves in a position to have to save someone from an attacker, so it’s hard for us to predict how exactly we’d react.

But one thing we should never do is point to an attacker’s rap sheet and act like he deserves what he gets. Because that’s just not going to work. Any justification the officer had to punch the teen in the head repeatedly is focused on the exact situation we watched unfold in the video, not his criminal record.

Our criminal system is designed for courts to dole out punishments, not law enforcement officers. 

We ask a lot of the officers working our streets and communities. But there’s nothing more important than “to protect and to serve.”