Commentary

printed 07/10/2020

Local elected officials can be depended on to profess admiration and respect for the law enforcement personnel in their governments’ employ whenever sensitive issues arise.

Although it is true that they rush to the defense of any division under their purview when they are criticized, their expressions of support always seem to go up a notch when it’s a police matter.

There are undoubtedly numerous explanations for that — the hazardous nature of police work being the major one, but some small part of the reason for their ready embrace of law enforcement is that they, like many people, are just a little bit afraid of the police and see no point in making them mad.

Who knows? The latter might be the difference between a warning and an embarrassing situation, or having departments’ significant support at election time.

That’s why it was disconcerting to hear various Worcester County Commissioners spend more time telling the police how much they like them than trying to understand the concerns of Commissioner Diana Purnell, the only Black member of the board.

It makes no difference that this area has not experienced a situation similar to the horrible events that have taken place elsewhere in the country, Commissioner Purnell feels the way she feels, and that, in itself, is a problem.

If she and her constituents feel exposed and vulnerable in their dealings with police, that should be addressed, regardless of whether anyone else feels it’s warranted.

The police departments and the sheriff’s office have no reason to be offended by her questions, because neither she nor anyone else is saying they have done anything wrong. But the tenor of the times suggests that law enforcement leadership might see why developing a more trusting relationship with the Black community would beneficial for everyone.

In the meantime, the other commissioners should also understand that they can’t know how Commissioner Purnell feels or why. It isn’t part of their experience. That, however, doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable to talk around her perceptions as if they are of no great concern.

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