The coroner’s van didn’t need to be called out that night.
Shortly before midnight on June 23, two Schenectady police officers responded to a domestic violence call on Division Street.
As the man approached them waving two knives, the officers raised their weapons. But they kept their cool. They didn’t shoot him. Eventually, the man dropped the knives and was taken into custody.
The encounter could have ended violently, with the officers reasonably justifying their actions as self-defense. Just two months earlier, two Rotterdam police officers were cleared by State Police of any wrongdoing when they killed a suspect who had threatened them with a knife.
So many circumstances factor into whether someone lives or dies in encounters between citizens and police. Some officers are better prepared, mentally, professionally and physically for these encounters. Some are more suited to the stress of unexpected confrontations. Some overreact. Some hold it together. Some allow their own prejudices to get the best of them.
In the wake of a week of violence in which this nation saw two black men killed by white officers under questionable circumstances, and on a night when we saw five police officers gunned down in Dallas by a man upset over the racial implications of the killings, it is vital that we not allow our overwhelming grief, bias or fear to get the best of us.
Inflammatory rhetoric must not overwhelm our reason.
Citizens and police depend upon one another for their security and safety. We can’t afford to make enemies of one another.
We need our police to protect us and our loved ones. We need them to enforce our laws, which sometimes involves facing violent people and making split-second decisions on whether to use deadly force.
But police can’t protect us if they’re terrified we’re going to turn against them.
So we must resist the urge to incite anti-police sentiment on the basis of single, isolated incidents to the point where it inspires some among us — like the shooter in Dallas — to kill police officers.
Racism is still a deeply rooted problem in this country. It didn’t go away after the Civil War or after the civil rights movement of the 1960s or after the election of a black president.
It is a cancer this country lives with every day. If we don’t control it, it will spread and kill us all.
To fight the cancer, the citizens and police both need to speak out against it and reach out to one another to fight it.
The so-called “blue wall of silence,” in which officers protect one another at all costs, must come down. Simply not tolerating the racist elements and discrimination within their ranks is not enough. They must be a strong voice against it.
In that same vein, citizens cannot condone retaliation against law enforcement by lumping the bad in with the good. Not all officers are racist. Not all white officers hate minorities. Not all police chiefs condone misconduct or conspire to hide malfeasance.
In the shadow of yet another crisis, we all must resist the urge to fuel the divisiveness, and instead come together in a spirit of mutual trust and understanding.
The alternative is another week like we had last week.
Another week in which the coroner’s van was called out far too many times.