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Don’t scapegoat police officers

They cut the firehose.

After looting store after store, setting 144 cars ablaze, hurling rocks and bricks at police, closing down 200 businesses, and setting fire to a newly constructed senior center and CVS, the Baltimore rioters cut the firehose as firefighters tried to save the city.

The people of Baltimore were left sobbing in the streets as they watched their community burn while police were ordered to stand down. This scene of chaos and destruction should never happen in another American city.

We should ask what is causing America to lose a generation of urban youth? What combination of failing schools, joblessness, family breakdown and guns in the hands of criminals has created this culture of violence and hopelessness?

We should also recognize that the death of Freddie Gray is a tragedy, and we should demand that if any police officers have violated the law (in Mr. Gray’s case or in any other) they must be held fully accountable.

But we should not tolerate attempts to scapegoat law enforcement, to paint police as the cause of violence. Sadly, demonizing law enforcement has become all too common.

Last December, protesters in New York chanted, “What do we want? Dead cops” and attacked police.

Last summer, the city of Ferguson, Mo., was besieged by a violent mob that looted stores, set dozens of businesses ablaze and shot at police. When both a local grand jury and the U.S. Justice Department found no evidence of any wrongdoing by the police officer, the city again erupted in violence.

And what happened to the cleared police officer? He still faces death threats. He has been forced to quit his job as a cop — a job he loved. And he has moved away, for his own safety. He is only 28 years old.

What message does all of this send to the hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers across America?

The overwhelming majority of police officers are honest, hardworking Americans, who are motivated solely by the desire to protect and serve and who do not have a racist bone in their bodies.

This month, the name of Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Byron Dickson was etched on the wall at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, honoring those who gave their lives in the line of duty. Next year, tragically, the name of Philadelphia police Officer Robert Wilson III will be added, as well.

Trooper Dickson and Officer Wilson are just two examples of what the hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers across America stand for: An unwavering commitment to protect and serve, at any cost.

It is every American’s right to demonstrate on behalf of their social and political values and objectives. It is not their right to engage in violent criminal behavior while demonstrating.

The next time an American city sees the kind of violent criminal demonstrations we saw in Baltimore, I hope the police are allowed to do their jobs. And the next time there is a demonstration about police conduct, I hope it’s to show our gratitude toward the overwhelming number of police officers who do their jobs honorably and courageously.

Pat Toomey, a Republican, is a U.S. senator of Pennsylvania.


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