Your Safety Privilege at Penn

Last night around 11:20 P.M., two of Philadelphia’s finest were shot in cold blood during a rampage in which the suspect shot six people total.

One of the officers, Eddie Miller, is a Penn Police Officer who had previously served the Philadelphia Police Department for 33 years before joining our university’s staff. The other officer, Sgt. Sylvia Young, a 19-year veteran of Philadelphia PD, was ambushed by the suspect in her patrol car and was shot eight times in her arm and vest.

One of the officers was shot on Sansom St. and 52nd St while the other was shot on Sansom St. and 48th St.

Tragically, one innocent bystander was pronounced dead at the scene after the shooting.

Thankfully, however, both officers are listed in stable condition after being rushed to Penn Presbyterian, but the incident has left us with many questions regarding our own safety and the safety of our protectors, as students on Penn’s campus are forced to face the fallout of an incident that hits close to home.

The shooting comes just months after a Philadelphia officer was ambushed in his patrol car by a homegrown terrorist in January so Police Commissioner Ross and the Philadelphia PD are naturally taking every step necessary to prevent a future attack. Commissioner Ross has ordered that all officers patrol in pairs, effective immediately.

Many students at Penn take in the isolated tragedies that they see on national television and are quick to vilify officers across the country, or make ignorant blanket statements about the alleged racism and unjustified violence of law enforcement, but that is neither here nor there.

If you’re lucky enough to be a student at Penn, it’s time to put your politics aside for a brief minute and consider the human potential that was lost; consider the bravery and benevolence of those who proved last night that they are willing to run into harm’s way to protect you from a violent criminal. While you were sitting in Huntsman last night doing homework, or while you sat in bed watching Netflix, or while you stumbled back home after a night out, there was a violent rampage that happened in your backyard, and the fact that you can only find out about it this morning is privilege.

It is a privilege that you go to a university that has the second largest private police force in the nation to keep you safe. It is a privilege that you can talk about police shootings and violence against officers as if it is some distant phenomenon, as if it happens everywhere in the country except where you live.

It gets personal when two of those who protect you have been shot; now you have skin in the game. Now you’re forced to look the violence in the face and think about how these senseless atrocities can happen anywhere. You should be pissed.

A letter written by the suspect was found at the scene – and it was in this letter that the shooter professed his hatred for police and his probation officer in particular. Let’s be clear: the men and women in blue were targeted by the suspect; this is a hate crime. The national anti-police fervor has led to officers being targeted around the country and is threatening their safety and our own.

Perhaps the most stark social injustice of the situation is that there will be no protests against police violence; the gravely-injured officers will not find their names and faces on picket signs and t-shirts; once the news ends they will be forgotten again because, for some reason, in 2016, heroes fall into anonymity while criminals are put on a pedestal and remembered as martyrs.  

How we as a nation have become so backward-thinking is logic-defying. There will be no debates over public safety, nobody talking about the safety of the brave men and women in blue, and nobody condemning the institutions that led the suspect to use violence, but the second that the roles are reversed, there is a national outcry.

Just last week, Tyree King, a 13 year-old boy, was shot in Columbus, Ohio. To be sure, nobody disputes that this is an absolute tragedy – the boy had the rest of his life ahead of him and was ostensibly a good student and generally well-mannered, according to his parents.

However, in context, the boy was out at 2:00 A.M. brandishing a BB gun – and this gun was nearly identical to the handguns issued by the Columbus PD. Furthermore, the officers involved in the incident were responding to a report of an armed robbery. Tragically, the boy pointed his gun at an officer, and the officer responded with fatal force.

Again, it is a heart-wrenching scenario when a 13-year old boy has his life cut short, but the amount of national outcry and amount of people on campus that I have heard chiming in to support King and condemn the officer is extremely concerning. I have heard from several people who think that the officer misread the situation and should not have shot the boy, saying that instead he should have found a way to verbally or otherwise diffuse the situation instead of making it violent.

This is complete ignorance on the part of my peers – there is no other reason to point a gun at another individual than to shoot. When a gun is pointed at another human being, the situation is already violent, and it is up to the officer to protect himself and his community by ending the violence. One freshman put it perfectly when he said, “We expect our police officers to protect and serve, not be sacrificed.”

All policing is local – it is not a national police force that protects us and sometimes makes mistakes; it is the bravery of individual people that protects us, and it is human error that makes mistakes. To condemn a whole class of officers is grossly stereotypical, and in some cases even racist and tribal. If Penn Police and Philadelphia Police didn’t care about you and your safety, then there would not be two of them lying in the hospital right now.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to our protectors and their families, not just after a tragedy like this, but every day. We wish a speedy recovery to Sgt. Young, Officer Miller, and the other victims of the shooting.

To the Philadelphia Police, the Penn Police, and the brave men and women in blue around our country who protect and serve: Thank you.

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