Nineteen years ago this week, America was brought together in a most horrible way.
The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., killed thousands and shocked the world.
One bright spot we took from that horrific day was the bravery and dedication of the firefighters, police officers and other public safety and medical workers who rushed to the scene, saved lives and, in many cases, gave the last full measure of devotion in the service of their communities.
As a group, they came to be known as “first responders.” The people who run into burning buildings when others are running out. Who risk, and sometimes give, their lives in the service of others.
Or, in Fred Rogers’ more basic description, they are “the helpers.”
It resonated that the day came to be known as 9/11 — which is both the calendar date and the telephone number Americans call when they need help.
Much has changed since then.
But much is the same.
The first responders — police officers, firefighters and others — are still there, still ready and willing to serve us, even at the risk of their own lives.
But they are not apart from the communities they serve. And today, as domestic discord and violence rather than foreign terrorists are foremost in our minds, the issue of racism in our communities and in the enforcement of our laws must be addressed.
Last week on this page, we published a political cartoon intended to illustrate the need for law enforcement professionals to look within themselves and root out whatever vestiges of systemic racism may still be there.
Sadly, many people interpreted that drawing as saying that all police officers are racists. That was not the intent of the cartoonist or of the editors who approved the cartoon. But it was the way many people saw it. We at The Tribune regret that inference. And we’ll take responsibility for it.
But just as it would be wrong to say that all police officers are racist, it would also be wrong to say that racism does not exist within the law enforcement world, as it exists in most elements of our society.
Black Americans have cause to fear that the law is not enforced fairly and equitably. We have all seen the videos and heard the reports to know that that fear is not without reason.
And we know that the history of law enforcement has frightening elements within it, as when police were the enforcers of Jim Crow laws and other forms of official and unofficial bigotry, and not just in the South. More recently, no less an authority than the FBI has warned of efforts by white supremacist groups to infiltrate American police agencies.
Facing these issues will help everyone. With more trust throughout the community, police will be better able to do their jobs and run much less risk of being harmed — or harming others — while doing it.
The Salt Lake City Police Department is talking with Black Lives Matter activists. Gov. Gary Herbert himself, along with members of his Cabinet, has been receiving training to recognize implicit bias.
Supporting police does not make one a racist. Saying that Black lives matter does not make one an anarchist. We must tune out the professional malcontents on all sides. It is the responsibility of all of us, in government and civic life, not just the police, to come together to build trust.