Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
An open letter reads: “To the sensationalists, liars and race-baiters—we are done with you.”
Police unions are not exactly shy about expressing their anger. New York’s police-union chief said Mayor Bill de Blasio had blood on his hands following the fatal shooting of two officers. Baltimore’s police-union chief described #BlackLivesMatter protesters as a “lynch mob.” Cleveland’s police-union chief said “we've given the inmates the keys to the asylum,” referring to recent anti-cop sentiments, and while the subject of that remark wasn’t entirely clear, he was plain about his hostility to “leadership, federal, state and local.”
All of that is patty-cake compared to the position taken by the River City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 614 in Louisville, Kentucky. In an open letter, Louisville police union president Dave Mutchler issued what could be read as a threat to residents of the city.
“We know that the vast majority of you see that ninety-nine percent of police officers serve with integrity and courage,” the letter reads. “Although we know in our hearts that you are the silent majority, sadly, that may not be enough. Soon, we may have to ask for you to rise with us against the small, but very vocal group of people in our city who resist everything we all strive to attain—freedom, safety and the ability to live our lives happily and without fear.” (The bold emphasis is ours.)
The letter is addressed to three parties:
- “the public we serve”;
- “the criminal element in our city”; and
- “the self-appointed spokespersons who choose to remain blind to reason, who use misinformation and who sensationalize tragedy at every opportunity to forward their political agendas.”
As if to clarify, Mutchler salutes each of these groups separately. “To the sensationalists, liars and race-baiters—we are done with you,” Mutchler writes, addressing that third bloc. “At first it was good enough just to sit back and watch your ridiculous spectacle. No more.”
What moved the police union to such anger? Mutchler was most likely discussing the criticism that the Louisville Metro Police fielded after an officer fatally shot Deng Manyuon, a Sudanese refugee, on June 14. Louisville Metro Police chief Steve Conrad released surveillance-video footage of the incident, which shows officer Nathan Blanford shooting Manyuon after he attacked the officer with a flag pole. (Mutchler didn’t return a call for comment.)
Mutchler’s dramatic letter drew a fast response from Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, which he posted via Twitter.
Regarding the FOP letter: I appreciate that emotions are high after the tragic event of last week.— Mayor Greg Fischer (@louisvillemayor) June 19, 2015
This letter does not reflect the sentiments of me or the vast majority of Louisville's citizens, who know that we are all on the same page— Mayor Greg Fischer (@louisvillemayor) June 19, 2015
We are in this together, including police who put their lives on the line to keep us safe while building strong relationships of trust— Mayor Greg Fischer (@louisvillemayor) June 19, 2015
Rather than incite distrust between the police and the community, my administration will work to build those critical relationships— Mayor Greg Fischer (@louisvillemayor) June 19, 2015
Police chief Conrad also issued a response, albeit a tepid one.
Here’s the deal: The officer’s decision to shoot Manyuon may have been justified. The video of the fatal encounter is unusually clear. The officer made his decision in a fraction of a moment. That much appears to be beyond doubt. (Critics have said that the officer should have responded with non-lethal force.)
Even if the shooting was justifiable, though, it was a fatal incident that should have been avoided. Manyuon, who spoke very little English, had been arrested 16 times since he arrived in Louisville in 2008. He frequently reacted to police with violence, according to the Associated Press. He struggled with alcohol. Manyuon failed himself. But the immigration, social-support, and criminal-justice systems failed him, too.
Even as Louisville searches its soul over Manyuon’s death, the city is struggling with a surge in violent gun crime: more than a dozen shootings in one week, with six homicides over two weeks. Residents of West Louisville are asking for more police officers, not fewer.
“Consider yourselves on notice”: not the sort of thing people would expect police to say in response to residents asking for greater police presence. Yet the allergy among police to reprisals, indictments, criticism, even just questions following police shootings is so great that police unions are lashing out, proactively, preemptively, against the residents they are sworn to serve. Residents who, in Louisville, are asking for their help.