Open Letter from Rockdale Sheriff Eric Levett: Reflecting on the shootings

eric Levett
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As the flags in front of my building are at half-staff, I can only sit and reflect on last week’s events. The death of five law enforcement officers following the death of two black men, once again glued us to the television watching the videos. It’s early in either case, but much of the public is wondering if any of these shootings are justified.

Incidents of deadly force, with and without videos, seem to come with saddening regularity, and for much of the uneducated public, feel as if it involves a white officer and an unarmed black man. It has been nearly two years since the deaths that first intensified a national focus on the problem: Brown, in Ferguson, Garner in Staten Island, Gurley in Brooklyn and Scott in South Carolina.

Beyond the names we recognize are hundreds and thousands we do not. According to a Washington Post database, over 500 people have been shot and killed by police officers in the United States this year – 2016. In many of the cases the person killed presented a serious danger. The dangers officers face add to the complexity of how they respond to potentially violent suspects, as Long Islanders know. Officer Brian Moore of the NYPD was shot to death last year while patrolling by a man with a criminal record. Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were assassinated in their squad car in Brooklyn in 2014 by a man apparently enraged over police killings of unarmed civilians. When civilians kill cops, it is usually clear who is in the wrong. When cops kill civilians, the situation always seems a little cloudy to most. Just a few days ago, 5 officers were killed as they tried to protect protesters who were marching against the very cause that officers stand for.

Nationally and locally, most people feel as if police culture has to change. From new approaches to training to how investigations and prosecutions are handled, more must be done. Most people feel that officers use unneeded force. In most cases, it seems that the public has been wrong, but I would not argue this point except to say – the culture of our nation has to change. We are in an age where there is not just a lack of respect for police, but a lack of respect for each other. We can see countless videos of people possibly having an issue where they feel as if they were wronged by police. There are also lots of videos of people fighting on streets and beating up each other for no reason except to be popular, not to mention the videos of people cussing out, disrespecting and threatening officers. Why are the situations with the officers doing something to a citizen an issue and the others not?

More importantly what we can’t do – is wait until there seems to be an issue like this to talk about what changes need to be made. Where was everyone that wanted to have this meeting, early last week – when a young man was shot in a truck as he drove down Salem Rd. – or where was the community outrage when 3 people were killed in Brandon Glenn last Saturday? I have NO issue with people speaking up on issues or addressing things, I just believe that there should not be a reactive approach, which is the common theme. You are requiring a proactive plan from law enforcement to tell you what we will do, or you are asking us what have we been doing to prevent this. My question for you is – what are you doing to help us prevent this?

For the men and women in law enforcement, July 7th began like any other day, kiss the family goodbye, grab a quick bite to eat and head to work. Our work and the work of every single person who donned a uniform like mine is like no other job. The book of John says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” From the moment you put on that uniform, you have answered a call that at any moment, even in the most minimum interaction, may put your life in danger…and you know what? I am OK with that.


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