This letter is not meant to condone, offer an excuse, a reason, an explanation of police shootings of Black men either unarmed or when brandishing a knife or other weapon. A man shot in the back seven times is over reaction by a police officer, especially since the victim presented no threat to the officer.
But, it does prompt us to ask, “Why such a response to little or no threat?”
If you remember Lt. William Calley and the massacre he and his men brought on 400 innocent civilians, you might understand the import of this letter. Calley should never have been commissioned an officer. He was ineffective, lost any sense of command and discipline over his troops, which led to the most remembered tragedy of the Vietnam War.
Anyone who has ever been in prolonged combat . . . I mean week in and week out . . . Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, will know what I mean.
We often went into an area, secured it for three to seven days and returned to basecamp. Two weeks later, you go back and do it again. That pattern repeated itself week to week, month to month.
All of the time you are subject to short firefights, ambushes, personnel mines, a constant enemy threat. While medevacing, a helicopter lands, you load the wounded. You're ambushed again, the helicopter takes off, dropping your wounded soldier to the ground still on a litter.
You finally return to basecamp where a mortar attack interrupts the night.
You are constantly aware of the shoeshine kid who might have a grenade in his box of polish and rags. Wherever you go, you sit with your back to the wall while facing the entrance. You look for an exit. Your eyes move around the room looking for anything and anyone suspicious.
It’s nerve wracking. It's enough for the coolest of heads to go berserk and shoot up innocents.
Policemen see the worst of us day in and day out . . . some keep it bottled up, others take it home and eventually get divorced. Others take it out on unarmed or menacing men.
It’s nerve wracking. Even the coolest of them have a breaking point.
But seeing the worse of us week in and week out is no excuse for a policeman to go off the rails.
While we are calling for more funding for social workers and mental health professionals, we need to recognize that policemen need help, too.
Better screening would have kept a Lt. Calley out of the Army . . . certainly out of a combat leadership position.
Better screening and an annual or even a couple times a year, counseling might help detect policemen who may be having issues.
I am not making an excuse . . . I am suggesting a solution. Gawd, only knows there are thousands of Vietnam Veterans now in their 70's still experiencing PTSD and thousands more Iraqi war veterans suffering nightmares.
Policemen are no different than a war veteran. They see things that the rest of us never think about, or even want to . . . and they lose it. They need help before one of us is next.