Noah Berger/AP PhotoProtesters block Interstate 580 in Oakland

Bay Area police unions call for respect and constructive dialogue around policing and race

In an open letter to the Bay Area, three of the region's largest police unions say their members feel pulled in two directions over recent protests targeting officers.

While calling for a “constructive dialogue” around the very “complex issue” of race and policing in America, the letter defends the good work police do while condemning the vilification and attacks the rank-and-file feel they are under.

“Police officers must swear to uphold the Constitution, and we also take seriously our responsibility to protect the First Amendment right of the public we serve,” reads the letter. “Unfortunately, recent events threaten to bring these two great responsibilities into conflict.”

The joint letter from the police unions of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose represents one more step by local police into the nationwide debate surrounding the deaths of two unarmed black men – Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City – and subsequent protests over the two grand juries that declined to indict any officers in connection with the incidents.

Last week, San Francisco Police Officers Association President Martin Halloran wrote a strongly worded letter to Supervisor John Avalos in opposition to a nonbinding resolution Avalos authored supporting police reform and protesters. Halloran said the resolution was an incitement to violence.

Days later, two police officers were killed by a deranged man in New York City who said he was motivated by the protests.

Even before these events, tensions were rising among protesters and the police officers sworn to maintain public safety.

Bay Area protests stopped freeways and were a flashpoint of some violent behavior by law enforcement as well as protesters. Rocks and other projectiles were thrown at police and vandalism and looting took place.

But police also fired less-lethal projectiles into crowds and in one case involving undercover CHP officers pulled a pistol on protesters in Oakland.

However, as the joint union letter points out, the protests have also been the scene of vilifications of police that law enforcement must “bear … in dignified silence.”

“Demonstrations in New York chanted in unison: 'What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want it? Now.' That was disgraceful,” the letter reads. “So, too, was witnessing protest marches in the Bay area denigrate into violence, destruction and mob rule.”

Similar chants were yelled at protests in Oakland.

Nevertheless, the letter goes on to say, police will continue to do their job. They only ask that they are given respect as the debate they aim to take part in continues.

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