Combat-Veteran Cops: To Blame for the Baltimore Riots?

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In today’s op-ed, Hernandez addresses the journalist who uttered that nonsense, with far more couth (and far less profanity) than we could muster. Mad Duo

(Grunts: Couth)

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Combat-Veteran Cops: To Blame for the Baltimore Riots?

Chris Hernandez

I’m sure you’ve seen it. During an interview in Baltimore with Congressman Elijah Cummings about police-community relations, CNN’s Brooke Baldwin mentions that military veterans who become police “are ready to do battle.” The context of the statement is a little fuzzy, and all I can find are short clips without the full conversation. But I’m pretty sure Ms. Baldwin believes combat-veteran cops like me are partly responsible for the Baltimore riots.

Cummings: “We really gotta look at our police department.”

Baldwin: “But in what sense? We talk about training, we talk about having officers… I was talking to a city councilman here last week who was saying, ‘Brooke, these people have to live in the communities, there’s no emotional, or there’s a lack of emotional investment.’ And a lot of these young people, I mean I’ve been talking about this so much, a lot of these young people, and I love our nation’s veterans, but some of them are coming back from war, they don’t know the communities, and they’re ready to do battle.”

Just about all my veteran friends are disgusted with Ms. Baldwin. Right-wing web sites have been incessantly trashing her all day. I’m pretty mad about it myself. But unlike some others who have written about Ms. Baldwin, I’m going to try to be fair to her.

Brooke Baldwin doesn’t seem to be consciously anti-veteran, and has expressed strong concern for veterans on at least two occasions. First, she broke down on air as a parent read his veteran son’s suicide note:

And she played in a celebrity softball game to honor fallen troops (note that she refers to them as heroes):

She’s also shown she’s not the left-leaning political hack many journalists seem to be, or at least she wasn’t on one notable occasion. During an interview with a Colorado representative who was recalled over her support for gun control, the representative blamed “voter suppression” for her recall. Baldwin immediately cut her off, bluntly brought up the representative’s low approval ratings and didn’t let her shift blame for her political failure.

And one thing Ms. Baldwin mentioned is correct: many police officers don’t live in the areas they police. This was true long before the War on Terror and will likely remain this way forever. Maybe Ms. Baldwin believes we cops don’t live in our beats because of arrogance or hatred for the people we police. Maybe Congressman Cummings does too. But the truth isn’t quite so simple.

When you police an area, you see things that residents going about their daily lives don’t. A resident who works all day and sleeps all night may never know that the guy three doors down was arrested but never convicted of beating his wife, or the vacant house two streets over was the site of a rape, or the neighbor nobody ever sees during the day sells crack between two and four a.m. The resident might think “nothing serious ever happens here,” and he’s not wrong; after all, he lives there and feels safe. The cop thinks “that neighborhood has way too many problems for me to live there,” and he’s not wrong either.

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When I was a small-town cop, for a time I lived right on the town’s main road. Troublemakers in town knew where I lived, what I drove and what my wife drove. A few times while I was grocery shopping with my wife and daughter I heard people mutter things like “I could kick his ass” as they walked past. One drunk I arrested threatened to rape my wife. Another drunk, who turned out to be a drug addict and child molester, told me something very interesting while I booked him: “I’m a cook at the [town’s only] Chinese restaurant. I see you and your wife there all the time. You always order the pepper steak and she always orders the lemon chicken.”

Did incidents like that motivate me to move out of town? You bet. Ms. Baldwin doesn’t take into account my honest motivation for living elsewhere: I’m worried about my family’s safety. That’s not hyperbole. As we’ve been shocked to discover recently, there are people who hate cops so much they’re willing to kill us just for being cops. We’re all aware of the two NYPD officers assassinated after the Ferguson riots, and within the last two days a female officer working overnight security at a Houston Wal-Mart was stabbed repeatedly by a man apparently seeking revenge for the death of Freddie Gray. After Officer Darren Wilson was cleared by a Grand Jury a Nordstrom employee posted “Every time an unarmed black man is killed, you kill a decorated white officer, on his door step in front of his family.” Baldwin might be surprised to learn that this hatred of police officers didn’t begin when Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown.

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As I mentioned before, I and my family have been threatened because I’m a cop. I take that seriously. If Ms. Baldwin, or anyone else, thinks I’m somehow being arrogant/racist/generally bad because I don’t want my wife and children living among people who genuinely want to kill me, I don’t care. As a street cop and combat soldier I’ve taken more than my fair share of chances with my own life. I’m not going to take chances with my wife’s or children’s lives.

But the really inflammatory portion of Baldwin’s comment wasn’t about where we live, it was the “ready to do battle” part. And again, being fair to Baldwin, I am ready to do battle. I trained for combat for decades, experienced it overseas, and have done my best to maintain my skills and mindset since my return. That does not mean I view American police work as “battle”.

I’ve had this discussion many times before when people, usually not cops, say things like “Being a cop here must be just like being in Iraq.”

No, it isn’t.

Bombs aren’t routinely blowing up around us. We’re not under constant threat of sniper and machine gun fire. We don’t leave the station with the expectation of getting into a gunfight (in fact, one of the hardest things in police work is keeping officers from being lulled into complacency). The people we police aren’t “enemy”; in the very worst neighborhoods I’ve worked, I’ve met plenty of good, decent, friendly, hardworking people. And combat veterans tend to appreciate that difference. Rather than being keyed up all the time, many of us realize just how safe America is compared to other places we’ve served.

There has been an influx of combat vets into law enforcement during the War on Terror, just like there was an influx during and after the Vietnam War, and after the Korean War, and after World War II. But just in terms of raw numbers, even if every single young combat vet who became a cop really was “ready for battle”, how many would that be? Less than one percent of the population serves in the military. The entire military didn’t deploy, so a much smaller number served in a combat zone. And an even smaller number actually served in combat (no, serving in a combat zone doesn’t automatically equal hitting the beach at Normandy; some “combat vets” never left the wire, never heard a shot, never experienced anything like battle, went to weekly salsa dancing events, had wireless internet in their rooms, and even had fast food delivery available).

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The conventional wisdom among many combat vets is that only .45% of the American population served in battle in Iraq or Afghanistan. I personally think that number is far too high, even if you include all the people who never left the wire but were exposed to incoming rocket or mortar fire. This generation of combat vet police officers is far smaller than previous generations, and can’t be blamed for issues affecting the entire nation. Maybe some combat-vet cops have been involved in questionable shootings, but I’ve also heard of cases like this one, where a former Marine wounded in combat in Iraq chose not to shoot a murder suspect even though he would have been justified. Painting us all with the “ready to do battle” brush doesn’t come close to addressing the truth. A journalist as professional as Baldwin should know that.

But what bothers me most about Ms. Baldwin’s statement is this: “I love our nation’s veterans.” This strikes me as the “pity not respect” mindset so common among one side of the political spectrum. The right tends to lionize all veterans as heroes; that’s objectively wrong and harmful, but at least it’s honest. The left tends to make empty, hollow professions of love for us; they don’t love us enough to actually serve with us, they don’t love us enough to want their children to serve with us, and they don’t love us enough to actually get to know us. But they do love us enough to pity us, they love us enough to think we’re all suicidal and PTSD-stricken, and they love us enough to distrust those of us who become cops because we’re “ready to do battle”. That’s a lot of love.

After her “ready to do battle” comment was broadcast, Ms. Baldwin responded to the backlash by tweeting, “Folks. Please don’t misunderstand me. Dear friends/family of mine are veterans. I was repeating a concern vocalized to me lately. That’s it.” Well, since she mentioned on air that she’s “been talking about this so much”, it doesn’t sound to me like she was just repeating other people’s concerns. But maybe she poorly expressed her thoughts. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, if she’ll do one thing for me.

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Ms. Baldwin, I suggest you TALK TO AN ACTUAL VETERAN. No, I don’t mean someone traumatized by PTSD, or a veteran who survived a suicide attempt, or any other beloved victim story that journalists always gravitate to. Their stories are real and important, but stories from the rest of us are important too. So please, Ms. Baldwin, find a veteran who proudly served, doesn’t consider himself damaged, isn’t suffering from PTSD and isn’t a “hero”. Find one who believes his or her life was enriched by serving in combat. Maybe you could even find one who became a cop after their service.

You and other journalists might think a happy, productive, well-adjusted combat vet is a unicorn, but a lot of us exist. And you probably think a happy, normal combat-vet cop is as elusive as the Loch Ness monster, but plenty of us exist too. If you can’t find any such unicorns or Loch Ness Monsters within your circle of friends, please contact me. My email is [email protected] I’m more than willing to respectfully speak with you, one on one, unrecorded, whenever you’re free.

This isn’t a joke. I’d love the opportunity to show you that the average combat vet isn’t quite the threat you seem to think we are. Hit me up.

Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!

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breachbangclear.com_site_images_Chris_Hernandez_Author_BreachBangClear4Chris Hernandez Mad Duo Chris (seen here on patrol in Afghanistan) may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LIGHT writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley and Proof of Our Resolve. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog, Iron Mike Magazine, Kit Up! and Under the Radar. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.

Chris Hernandez

Chris Hernandez may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LITE writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley, Proof of Our Resolve and Safe From the War. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog.


Chris Hernandez has 115 posts and counting. See all posts by Chris Hernandez

14 thoughts on “Combat-Veteran Cops: To Blame for the Baltimore Riots?

  • May 7, 2015 at 9:38 pm
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    Great article. Although I was a cop before enlisting and then returned to being one and currently a cop and a guardsman, I believe that my time in Afghanistan has made me a better cop. My patience and professionalism increased dramatically as well as my tolerance for stupidity.

    Reply
    • May 8, 2015 at 2:09 pm
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      GOOD QUALITIES BRO… ESPECIALLY TOLERATING STUPIDITY. STAY STRONG AND SAFE….

      Reply
  • May 7, 2015 at 5:32 pm
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    Most “Reporters” are absolutely clueless about these issues and they do not mind blabbering like idiots! Some of their mindless bullshit is repulsive, ALL of it is indicative of their ignorance. MIX THAT with a leftist philosophy and “The news” becomes a caustic diatribe that accelerates our headlong rush into social chaos likely to exceed the upheaval of the 60s and 70s !I fear the influence of our leftist media and the Obama Administration is setting the stage for serious SERIOUS violence from within and without our once great nation. The stage IS set…

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    • May 7, 2015 at 5:37 pm
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      oh yeah… I have 10 years of LE experience, Combat Infantry Vietnam, Sniper/SRT CQB , paramedic… always felt like an anchor in a squall when the shit got deep.. SO..to the young warriors now doing LE time,THANKS BROTHERS!! STAND TALL….

      Reply
  • May 2, 2015 at 10:22 pm
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    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are enendowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,…”

    May God bless our veterans, but not one of them have more rights than any one else or should be given preferential treatment over the next guy just because they are veterans.

    I was not accepted to serve. I cringe everytime a vet gets help or more help than I would get on my own.

    These people are not so much owed anything for your freedom.

    Who is crazy enough to invade our nation of over 300 million souls when one out of three own a gun?

    It’s too bad these words were not incorporated into our Constitution and become law but they are words this nation was founded upon.

    Reply
  • April 29, 2015 at 9:26 pm
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    Awesome article Mr Hernandez. And, she’s a good sort, so if she contacts you….. I’m just sayin…..

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  • April 29, 2015 at 8:23 pm
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    As a vet with PTSD I found this article to be pretty insulting. Not having it doesn’t make you any more proud to have served than me nor does it make you any more of an authority on combat. Your remarks near the end of this article are insulting. Furthermore, all I heard as to this point is “Whine…..whine….I’m not getting enough attention because I don’t have PTSD.”

    And FYI, you’re right that it’s not combat vet cops that are the problem. It’s police in general.

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    • May 1, 2015 at 8:44 am
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      Charles,

      I have served with and known Chris H. for a number of years. He has great compassion for his fellow veterans and we have mutual friends that have been diagnosed with PTSD. We are all effected in one way or another by the stress of our tours/ experience. I truly believe you can not be the same after, but that doesn’t mean ruined. Those friends have sought help (professional/ comrades)and achieved great success in the past years. You must set goals and a path for the rest of YOUR life. You attacking Chris, rather than the articles specifics shows a lot of WHINING and hypersensitivity on your part. I wish you all the best in getting through your issues, but don’t point fingers and then look for a pity party from other Veterans.

      Chris keep up the good work. I am hooked.

      CJR

      Reply
  • April 29, 2015 at 5:11 pm
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    Great article! I can relate to Chris’ concerns in this article. I have been to Iraq and Afghanistan, I also have been a Police Officer for almost 15 years. I definitely wasn’t an inside the wire kinda guy. I had good days, bad days and worse days on my deployments. I wasn’t a “cool guy” operator or anything like that, but they were pretty cool down to earth guys. Citizens do seem to expect you to be some kind of crazy mental case who may go off the deep end at any second. I don’t want or need their pity either. I have experienced that vibe from people I work with and for at my agency. On the other side of the coin those same people expect me to handle the sketchy stuff that might be too “dangerous”. I do believe my experiences overseas have taught me to how to take a tactical pause and has sharpened my judgment and decision making process under high stress situations while at my civilian job. It is something which cannot be taught in a Police academy, only learned in a combat environment. Combat veterans in law enforcement are an asset not a liability. No one likes a Cop until they need one and everyone loves a Soldier until he comes home.

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  • April 29, 2015 at 1:55 pm
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    Maybe the best op-ed I’ve read in a long time.

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  • April 29, 2015 at 1:51 pm
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    Great response. Excellent manner in which you made your point and stated the facts, unlike the typical hyperbole from the likes of Elijah Cummings.

    God bless all our veterans. Thank you for your dedication and service to our country!

    Reply
  • April 29, 2015 at 12:36 pm
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    So very true, here in Canada they almost count having served AGAINST you when you apply to become a cop because of that mentality.

    Glad to see some good common sense and grace being shown.

    I really hope she takes you up on it Chris.

    Reply
  • April 29, 2015 at 9:16 am
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    That’s a fantastic and constructive response, sir. Kudos.

    Reply

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