DALLAS (AP) — After each fatal shooting of a black man by an officer, President Barack Obama has swiftly spoken out against bad policing, giving voice to the generations of African-Americans who have found themselves at the wrong end of a baton, a snarling dog or a gun.
As much as those words have comforted blacks, they have rankled many of the nation’s men and women in blue. Some have described the remarks as a slap in the face, an all-too-quick condemnation before all the facts are in and a failure to acknowledge the thousands of cops who do a good job and routinely risk their lives.
“It would just be nice for him to say ‘Hey, I support what you’re doing,’” said Scott Hughes, chief of police in Hamilton Township, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. “The president doesn’t defend the police. It’s very one-sided.”
On Tuesday, Obama traveled to Dallas to pay tribute to the five officers who were slain by a sniper at a peaceful protest. The president offered perhaps his strongest words yet of support for law enforcement, calling them heroes who died while preserving a constitutional right.
“Like police officers across the country, these men and their families shared a commitment to something larger than themselves,” Obama said.
But for many in law enforcement, Obama’s words, while welcome, are greeted with suspicion. Does he really believe it and feel it? They point to perceived slights dating back to his first term, and they believe he has helped stoke the flames of hatred for police.
Soon after Obama took office, police said, they sensed they wouldn’t get the same appreciation as shown by his two predecessors, who seemed to have officers’ backs.
Under President Bill Clinton, the Crime Bill of 1994 provided money to hire tens of thousands of new police. The image of President George W. Bush gathering with first responders in the rubble of the World Trade Center also sent a powerful message.
Just seven months into Obama’s first term, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested as he returned home late one night and tried to open his jammed front door. The white officer who responded to a report of a possible break-in arrested him for disorderly conduct.
The incident sparked a debate about racial profiling with Obama saying police had acted “stupidly.”
Pinal County (Arizona) Sheriff Paul Babeu, a longtime Obama critic whose jurisdiction sits between Phoenix and Tucson, said the president has undermined law enforcement throughout his tenure by raising issues of race and casting aspersions about officers in highly publicized police encounters.
The Gates incident also irritated Travis Yates, a major with the Tulsa, Oklahoma, police department and editor of lawofficer.com.
“That really was the tell-tale sign of his ideology” against police, Yates said.
The distrust has only deepened with each police shooting of a black man. Officers have seen Obama attend memorial services or send representatives. But until Tuesday, they said, the president had not shown the same outpouring after the death of a police officer.
It’s more than just the symbolism that troubles them.
They point to Obama’s opposition to providing police with surplus military equipment, which officers generally believe is essential to ensuring their safety and responding effectively to acts of terror or other mass violence. It feels like Obama isn’t interested in giving them the tools they need to do their jobs and stay safe.
“His policies, time and time again, put officers back on their heels,” Yates said.
For some, the relationship is so frayed that Obama’s words of support for law enforcement ring hollow.
“Maybe it’s not fair because we look at everything he says and think he’s not genuine,” Yates said.
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