Ruben Navarrette: Let's protect our cops — so they can protect us

Summary: We talk about how police can regain the trust of the public. In these somber days, we are confronted with another, equally important question: How can the public regain the trust of police?

Cartoon for Sept. 17, 2020 Cartoon by Steve Sack

SAN DIEGO — A friend, and fellow writer, recently paid me a compliment drawn from these apocalyptic times.

"My man," she said, "you are on an even keel."

With apologies to Kipling, if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, you probably don't work in media.

In times of trouble, journalists are — like everyone else — defined by our identity, memories and experiences.

As the son of a retired cop who bled blue for the 37 years he was on the job, when peace officers are gunned down because of the color of their uniform — including two rookie Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies who were recently shot in their squad car — I swell with pain, sorrow, and rage. Mostly rage.


As someone who cares about social justice, and once aspired to be a civil rights lawyer, I'm keen on the idea that we must confront the systemic problems of violence, corruption and racism that have helped poison the relationship between police officers and the community they are sworn to protect and serve.

And as a lapsed Catholic — who by the way isn't on speaking terms with Mother Church at the moment because of its failure to address a different sort of scandalous behavior — I can hear the wisdom in the admonition that Pope Paul VI shared with parishioners in 1972 at the Celebration of the Day of Peace: "If you want peace, work for justice."

I desperately want peace between the police and those who want to reform policing. And because the murder, or even attempted murder, of police officers hits close to home, I also want vengeance.

The deputies who were wounded in Los Angeles, and who spent hours undergoing multiple surgeries at a nearby hospital, are 31-year-old Claudia Apolinar, the mother of a 6-year-old boy, and a yet unidentified 24-year-old male deputy whose parents and girlfriend kept vigil at the hospital. Video shows Apolinar heroically tending to her partner as they waited for backup, even though she'd been shot in the face. Both deputies had only been on the force for 14 months.

The suspect remains at large.

Outside the hospital, protesters heckled sheriff's deputies who gathered to show respect for their fallen comrades. One of the protesters yelled: "I want to deliver a message to the families of the pigs, I hope they f---ing die." The crowd chanted: "We hope they die!"


At a rally in Nevada, President Donald Trump said: "We also believe that if you murder a police officer you should receive the death penalty."


That works for me. I want the perpetrator of this heinous crime brought to justice, as we all should.

Otherwise, this will conclude the sympathy portion of the American people's response to public protests over police violence — and the hatred of cops it may be fueling.

I said "may" because there is a lot of legitimacy to the public protests we're seeing over excessive force and systemic racism in the institution of policing.

But there may also be "rogue" elements in the police reform movement (Isn't that what police say about their bad apples?) who just want to wound, maim and kill cops because they're cops.

That's outrageous. Imagine being targeted for assassination not because of anything you did but because of what you do for a living. It should be a federal hate crime to attack cops indiscriminately just because someone is angry at anyone who wears a badge.

There is a war against cops, and the casualties are mounting.

In December 2014, New York police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were shot and killed in their patrol car in Brooklyn.

In July 2016, five officers were killed, and nine wounded, when Micah Xavier Johnson — an African American Army Reserve veteran and sniper who was angry over police shootings of black men — ambushed and fired upon a group of police officers in Dallas, Texas.


Now, cop killing — or at least attempts at it — has come to Los Angeles.

We are forced to make binary choices. It's always "either, or." Forget that. There is power in "and."

It's OK to condemn both police violence and violence against police. It's OK to be furious both at apologists for bad cops and ghouls who gather outside hospitals.

We talk about how police can regain the trust of the public. In these somber days, we are confronted with another, equally important question: How can the public regain the trust of police?

Ideas are welcomed.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at

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