YORK Local police and black leaders reacted swiftly and strongly to the fatal shooting of five Dallas police officers Thursday night, in an attack where seven other officers and two civilians were injured by snipers who shot the officers who were protecting the peace during a Black Lives Matter rally after the shooting of two black men by police.
Yet while denouncing the attacks, leaders also said that they understand there are racial tensions – especially after the killing of blacks by white officers – but violence is not the solution.
“I have never seen such cowardly acts against people wearing the uniform, the badge, who were out there protecting the rights of protesters,” said York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant. “If anybody thinks that we are going to solve the racial problems that we have in this country with violence, and the mass murder of police, they are wrong.”
The police, Bryant said, “are nobody’s enemy. We will protect everyone, and handle anyone who breaks the law the same.”
Bryant and his command staff gave specific directives to deputies Thursday night and Friday in dealing with the public as the Texas incident that came in response to police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota showed that the potential for trouble is everywhere. Yet the investigation of those police shootings has to be done, Bryant said, and if those officers in the shootings in other states – like some in South Carolina – are shown to be criminal acts, then those officers should be charged and prosecuted.
But reacting with hate and violence against the uniform is no solution, Bryant said.
“Those officers Thursday night were there to protect the rights of the protesters, because this is America,” Bryant said. “People have a right to protest, and march. But others don’t have the right to kill police.”
The Rev. Maurice Harden, pastor of New Mount Olivet AME Zion Church in Rock Hill who is active in the Black Lives Matter movement, said that pastors from across the nation held a conference call late Thursday and are meeting Friday about the escalating violence and racial tension.
“I am appalled, sickened, at the level of violence we have seen the last three days,” Harden said. “The level of fear, the level of violence, is at a critical mass.”
The killing of the two black men by police officers is “awful, unacceptable, and a tragedy,” Harden said, and the country needs real police reform to weed out “rogue cops.”
But killers who seek out vigilante justice “scar the Black Lives Matter Movement” by killing white police officers solves nothing and worsens the racial tension and divide in the country, Harden said.
“I have a real concern for the safety of all good officers out there in our country,” Harden said.
Harden said the solution is zero tolerance – on all sides.
“Zero tolerance for rogue officers who have a complex, who shoot first, who are taking the lives of our young black men,” Harden said. “And zero tolerance for anyone who would shoot police officers.”
Myra McCants, whose York County deputy son Brent was killed in 1992, wept as she watched the television coverage of the Dallas officers getting killed. Brent McCants was shot in a racial killing – he was white and the killers black. But, Myra McCants said, racial hatred is never the answer.
Racial hatred, she said, is the problem.
“I see all these officers in Dallas, and after the men were killed in Louisiana and Minnesota, all these families who will be torn apart by killing, and I think, ‘What has happened to us in this country?’ ” Myra McCants said.
Kevin Tolson, who won the York County Republican primary for sheriff last month and seems certain to take over in January as he faces no opposition in November, also denounced the shooting of officers in Texas, while also understanding the concern over the shootings by officers that are under review.
“The cowardly murders of the officers in Dallas who were protecting our country’s right to protest put our nation in no better place than we were the day before,” Tolson said. “My prayers are with the families of those officers, the Dallas Police Department and for our law enforcement across the country. My prayers are also with the families of the individuals shot by police in Baton Rouge (La.) and Falcon Heights (Minn). My hope is that our communities will come together and hold open and honest discussions to seek resolution of issues rather than resorting to violence.”
South Carolina, with two police shootings in the past year where white officers shot black men, had no violent protests after community leaders worked together. More, both white officers who shot black suspects were charged with the crimes.
Like Bryant, Fort Mill Police Chief Jeff Helms and top commanders told officers Thursday and Friday to continue to treat all people with respect and dignity. Yet officers will continue to enforce the law and protect the public at the same time, Helms said.
“We will always treat all people the right way,” Helms said.
Chris Watts, Rock Hill Police Department chief, issued a statement Friday afternoon saying he and his officers are saddened about the Dallas killings.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the City of Dallas, the Dallas Police Department, and the officers families during this tragic event,” Watts said. “In Rock Hill, we will continue the work that has been started strengthening the relationship between officers and our citizens. Our officers are are out in the city right now working hard to protect all of our community.”
Steve Love, an NAACP activist from York, called the series of killings “sickening.” In York, the city held a class for community members about interacting with police, and black leaders held a public forum last month to talk to young people about avoiding the problems of race and police that have swept the country.
“Teens, young people, they are scared,” Love said. “They are looking to leadership for guidance, to law enforcement and the rest of us, to be shown the right way.”
Racial tensions can be sparked by a single incident, as the past days have shown.
“We are doing all we can to make sure it does not happen here,” Love said. “But it could. It can happen in any city, small or large, in America. The deaths of those two black men in Baton Rouge and Minnesota are wrong. And the mass killing of the officers in Texas is wrong. The worst thing to do for all of us, as we continue to seek justice and a country where all of us are equal, where each of us has dignity, is to turn to violence.”