Whenever a police officer fatally shoots someone, justifiably or not, it is pretty much guaranteed to be big news all the around the country — prime fodder for editorial writers and television talk shows for days.
Yet when law enforcement personnel perform a heroic act — such as the recent rescue in Charles County, Maryland, of a family from a burning vehicle, including two babies — there might be little or no mention of that in comparison.
This incident occurred on Sept. 2, when a car veered off the roadway and slammed into a tree before bursting into flames — a recipe for tragedy.
However, members of the Charles County Sheriff’s Department had a thing or two to say about that.
A dash cam video shows one officer pulling up to a fireball in the woods, then using fire extinguishers in an effort to contain the flames.
Meanwhile, another officer spots an injured man on the ground, the driver of the vehicle, and pulls him to safety.
A Good Samaritan then arrives on the scene — which shows that all people aren’t bad, contrary to popular belief — and offers a fourth fire extinguisher as the blaze continues to rage.
Then the officers learned there were passengers trapped inside the car, including two toddlers, and without fear for his own safety, Officer Lamar Hamilton sprang into action and rescued them, in addition to helping firefighters free another occupant.
Afterward, Hamilton said that when police encounter such a scenario, it “changes everything” as far as the lengths they will go to respond.
“We’re not worried about getting hurt or the dangers, we just want to get the kids out of the car,” Hamilton said of the thought process at the time.
No matter how you slice it, the fiery rescue was a truly remarkable act on the part of the Charles County officers.
But I’ll bet that few of you readers even heard about it on the evening news or through some other mainstream journalistic source.
An Internet search will reveal that this extraordinary story somehow evaded the pages of major newspapers around the country as well as mention on TV networks. Coverage of this event was limited to blurbs on local broadcast stations and blogs.
Now contrast that to the seemingly endless reports of officer-involved shootings of African-Americans in places including Ferguson, Missouri, and Chicago which have made people such as Michael Brown (the black man killed in Ferguson) household names.
I would submit that for every Michael Brown, and the policeman who shot him, there are 100,000 Lamar Hamiltons, the officer who saved the toddlers in Maryland.
For the record, let me say that there are bad police officers just as there are bad people in any profession. And certainly cases of brutality have occurred, which shouldn’t go unnoticed and unpunished to the fullest extent of the law.
The April 2015 shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, readily comes to mind in this regard. Scott, a black man, was pulled over by Officer Michael Slager for a non-functioning brake light, and ended up dead.
A cell-phone video that surfaced from an eyewitness showed the unarmed Scott, who also is said to have been in arrears for child support, being shot from behind as he fled the scene. Officer Slager was charged with murder after the video emerged and contradicted his police report of the incident.
No one should die because of a faulty brake light, or being behind on child support.
And Slager must be held fully accountable for his actions — not only treated the same by the justice system as anyone else charged with murder, but judged even harsher. That’s because law enforcement officers must be held to a higher standard than civilians.
All that being said, cases such as the South Carolina shooting in which police have overstepped their bounds by using lethal force are thankfully in the minority.
While leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement and NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick might disagree, the vast majority of officers are willing to put their own lives on the line to save others, as those in Charles County, Maryland, recently demonstrated.
And sometimes they do make the supreme sacrifice.
Based on figures compiled by the Officer Down memorial organization, 22,607 known line-of-duty deaths have occurred in the U.S. since 1791. That includes 547 in North Carolina and 504 in Virginia.
Those who are so quick to condemn law enforcement agencies these days should keep such numbers in mind.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.