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Better to offer caution and compassion than threats, intimidation

As Louisvillians, we live in a compassionate city – by behavior and by charter. We live in a city deemed to be among the best places to live. We are richly diverse, culturally and professionally. We have world-renowned academics, healthcare institutions and corporations, along with iconic sports and distilling enterprises.

Louisville is the place where Lewis and Clark began their Journey of Discovery and it is home to legends such as Muhammad Ali, who dares us to be great, to do great things, but to do it with peace and grace – things we could all use a bit more of right now.

Especially in the wake of the letter last week, issued by Fraternal Order of Police President Dave Mutchler, a letter that poured salt on the emotional wounds caused by the city’s high crime and murder rate, the racist-inflamed murders last week of nine parishioners at a Charleston, S.C., church, and the recent shooting of Deng Manyoun by a Louisville police officer.

Our work at Family & Children’s Place would not be possible without the help and support of the Crimes Against Children Unit of the Metro Louisville Police Department, and we appreciate the dedication and the risks the men and women in blue display and take every day. But we recognize, too, that the line between protecting and provoking is a thin one, especially post-Ferguson.

So citizens, activists and otherwise, sensitized by events such as the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, the Charleston murders and Manyoun’s shooting, felt disrespected, even threatened by Mutchler’s letter. Instead of inviting people into the police officer’s world and the law enforcement process, Mutchler inflamed through intimidation.

Consider his most heinous threat: “If your behavior or untruths causes harm to us or the public, we will make every attempt to have you investigated, charged and prosecuted at the local, state or federal level.” Who defines the harm, who defines the truth? Mutchler?

At what point does his threat transit investigating, solving and prosecuting statutory criminal behavior to policing citizens’ legally protected activities, such as freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly?

Police work is hard. It’s potentially dangerous and confusing. Life and death decisions are made, as in the Manyoun case, in a moment, so questions and concerns are inevitable. In the Manyoun case, there’s every indication the officer acted appropriately and responsibly, but a man died. So given the nation’s laser scrutiny on use of deadly force, it’s appropriate, even necessary, the case be reviewed – by police, city leaders and citizens – as a means to understand, to learn and, in fact, to lead.

To do otherwise is irresponsible.

The city is responding responsibly – Mayor Greg Fischer spoke out in clear support of police, but cautioned against the tone and implied threat in Mutchler’s letter, as did Police Chief Steve Conrad, who said the letter does not serve the interest of the community and respect and dignity is required to earn trust.

Mutchler, though, who claims universal support for the “blunt” letter within the police department, fails to see how his poorly timed and worded missive is dividing the community, despite the around the clock coverage, the activists who took to the streets, the commentary on social networking sites.

For justice to work, it must be equal, rid of racial and radical overtones. There must be a partnership, based on principle and trust, between police and the people they serve. Mutchler’s strident stand has fractured that trust.

 

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