Commentary Magazine

Police Lives Matter

Do the names Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate mean anything to you? Probably not, but they should.

Messrs. Deen and Tate, both police officers, were shot dead in Hattiesburg, Mississippi last Saturday night during a traffic stop that ended in a hail of gunfire. The suspects fled the scene but were later arrested. Four individuals were charged, two of whom face capital murder charges.

According to news reports, Deen, 34, married his high school sweetheart and had two young children and a great family, according to those who know him. Tony Mozingo, a local judge, left red roses near the scene of the shooting.

“We all just are heartbroken because we know and work with these officers every day,” said Mozingo, who was accompanied by his wife and two daughters. Deen was a “consummate law enforcement professional.” He had been awarded his department’s Officer of the Year Award after rescuing a family from a burning home.

J.T. Taylor, a friend of Deen’s for 30 years, recalled Deen as a surrogate brother who enjoyed family more than anything else in his life. “He didn’t go anywhere without his family,” Taylor said. “You could usually find him one or two places: at his house or at his mom and dad’s house with his family.”

According to this account, Dean will be remembered as “a guy who was a little reserved, but still managed to have more friends than anyone else.”

“He was really and truly an awesome person to be around, always smiling, always making people laugh,” said Carla Higdon, who graduated with Deen in 1998.

“He grew up in a rich family environment and he had many friends because he really never met someone that he didn’t think, ‘Hey, this is a friend,’ ” said Taylor. “He had a smile that set you at ease. When he smiled, it was like you got a hug.”

The legacy Deen will leave behind, the Clarion-Ledger reports is “one of devotion to family and duty, to service and friends.”

“There really, really was not anybody who didn’t love him,” Higdon said.

The funeral service for Officer Deen is this morning.

* * * *

Liquori Tate, 25, grew up in a tough part of Starkville, Mississippi, 150 miles north of Hattiesburg, and became a police office so he could make a difference in the black community, according to Jarvis Thompson, who knew him from childhood.

“He wanted to become an officer because we’ve seen so much of our peers get killed or end up in jail,” said Thompson. “He was talking all the time about how he wanted to do better and make the place better.”

According to this story, Tate graduated last June from the police academy. Here’s what he wrote on his Facebook: “I am now a Police Officer. I would like to thank God, the Police Academy, the Police Department, my family, friends, and love ones.”

“I’ve never seen anyone more happy to be a cop than him,” Officer Jason Jarvis said.

Liquori worked at auto parts stores for years and was thrilled to have found his calling as an officer, his father, Ronald Tate, told CNN. “He had this enthusiasm, this fire in his soul,” his father recalled. “He really knew the risk. But I think my son just thought people are generally good, and that’s just the way he was. He thought people are generally good people, so let’s treat them all with dignity.”

The two talked on the phone every week and texted every day. “My son didn’t see color,” according to Tate. “We didn’t have all this animosity between races, and my son didn’t see that. He didn’t have time for that. He was just mellow and laid back and didn’t want to get into that.”

On Facebook, where his timeline had been filled with condolences, Mr. Tate wrote that he’d been in a “dizzy haze” since 10:11 p.m. Saturday, when he son was gunned down.

“This was my baby, who I was willing to allow to go into this type of dangerous work,” Ronald Tate said. “A guy who understood and loved everybody. Peaceful, passive, understanding. Wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

“My heart has been ripped out of my chest, and torn into a million pieces,” Liquori Tate’s father said. “Gotta get down to MS where my daughter is. She’s absolutely devastated. He was clearly her protector, and friend.”

“I just need some kind of mercy right now.”

Officer Tate’s funeral service will be on Saturday.

* * * *

So why hasn’t President Obama said anything about the slayings of Officers Deen and Tate? I ask because Mr. Obama weighed in, emphatically so, on the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the death of Eric Garner in New York City, and even the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for disorderly conduct, with Obama accusing Police Sgt. James Crowley of acting “stupidly” despite the president being unaware of all the relevant facts. So it’s not like Mr. Obama is reluctant to insert himself into local law enforcement matters.

I understand that cops can do bad things. Just last month a South Carolina police officer was charged with murder after shooting and killing a man after a routine traffic stop. But I do wonder why the president’s heart or conscience weren’t stirred by the events in Hattiesburg like they were in Cambridge, Ferguson, New York City and Sanford, Florida. Why hasn’t the president used the killings in Hattiesburg as a “teachable moment” in order to lead a “national conversation” that deepens our respect and gratitude for law enforcement officers, the vast majority of whom are professional and dedicated public servants (my brother is one of them)? Why did Mr. Obama choose to identify with Trayvon Martin, saying, “If I would had a son, he’d look like Trayvon?” when his son could also have looked like Liquori Tate.

And what about the press? Some media outlets have covered the killings of Officers Deen and Tate, but with nothing like the intensity of the cases I’ve mentioned. Why? Do the lives of two cops mean less than the life of Michael Brown, who fought Officer Darren Wilson and then charged him before he was shot? Why did the death of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin dominate coverage, while the murder of two cops — one black, the other white — doesn’t?

Some may argue that it’s because the other cases triggered community protests and violence and therefore demanded greater attention. Perhaps, though it should be said that (a) the intense media coverage can accelerate tensions; (b) there’s no reason we can’t we draw larger social lessons from the lives and deaths of Officers Deen and Tate; and (c) anyone watching media coverage of stories like Ferguson could see that journalists want these stories to fit a preconceived narrative. So much so that President Obama and many journalists insisted on putting a racial frame around the Cambridge, Ferguson and New York City stories when there’s no evidence race played a role in the actions of the cops. Michael Brown was shot because he attacked Officer Darren Wilson. He was not shot because he was black. But Americans could be excused for thinking otherwise based on the coverage.

These stories get attention because they play into a preferred narrative in which the cops are the source of tension with the community. Yet when events like the killing in Hattiesburg occurs – when everything we know reflects well on the cops and there’s no racial frame to put around it – well, that’s just not as interesting, is it? After all, it’s only two dead cops, and two grieving families, and a grieving community of friends.

Here’s what bothers me and may bother you. For some individuals, the lives of cops don’t really matter as much as the lives of those who are killed by cops, even when the killings are justified. If the story allows people to focus on racial divisions and conflicts between cops and citizens, they’re all in. If not — if the story is about good and decent people who dedicated their lives to the protection of others and died in the line of duty — they quickly move on to other things. It turns out that it’s the narrative, not the individual lives that matter. Except to those who loved Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate, those whose lives have now been shattered, those whose hearts have been torn into a million pieces.

Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!

For a very limited time, we are extending a six-week free trial on both our subscription plans. Put your intellectual life in order while you can. This offer is also valid for existing subscribers wishing to purchase a gift subscription. Click here for more details.

6 weeks free! Then 29.99/year

6 weeks free! Then 19.99/year