We are starting to become a nation of excuses. A nation that shoots first and then looks through your personnel file to explain away why the shooting was valid. I am not a fan of uncovering the past of a person who was unjustifiably killed. If a person is killed by a rogue police officer for no reason, then finding out that the victim had an extensive criminal record after he is dead doesn't justify the shooting.
You cannot kill someone and then backtrack through his life to find bits to make the shooting look explainable. We've seen this with Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and John Crawford III. All were killed and all had their private lives exposed after the fact. I don't need to know that Mike Brown may or may not have had a juvenile arrest record. “Killsplaining” that Trayvon Martin may or may not have smoked weed in high school did nothing to justify his execution.
So I don't want to know—or, even more importantly, need to know—that slain Dallas cop Lorne Ahrens, who was one of the five police officers ambushed during a peaceful protest, may have been a white supremacist.
On Tuesday, a Huffington Post columnist posted an article noting that Ahrens, who sported white supremacy tattoos and appeared to be extremely fond of white nationalist Facebook pages, may have been an active, card-carrying member of a white hate group. The article, titled, “Slain Dallas Cop Might've Been a White Supremacist: Still a Hero?” does good work in questioning how the media has vilified black victims while automatically falling into a systematic hero worship of slain cops.
My issue with the piece is that I didn't need to know that Ahrens may or may not have been a white supremacist, any more than I needed to know that Eric Garner had a 1-year-old love child. This dehumanizes the victims and slowly starts to undo their tragedy, and I don’t think this needs to be how we as a society approach unjust killings. A policeman lost his life. That's it. When Garner died, a family lost a father. Learning that a victim of gun violence had a life that included mistakes—as most lives do—doesn't help explain his death.
The most illuminating part of the HuffPost column was that internet detectives unearthed all the information about Ahrens. It was online sleuths who first noticed that a photo being shared as a loving portrait of a fallen hero also showed a white supremacy tattoo on his finger. While this would have been great information to learn while he was in the department, focusing on this in his death only desecrates his name.
I don't want those who are upset about the very tangible issues of policing in the black community to fall victim to this. The difference between Ahrens and the black victims mentioned above is that Ahrens' past was discovered by social media hounds, and the black victims’ lives were exposed by the media. The media has to do a better job of guarding the way in which we report unjust killings.
Ahrens’ hero status is not in question; and on the flip side, Micah Xavier Johnson is not a hero or a martyr for killing five officers in Dallas. He is a coward who was jaded by righteous teachings. And in turn, Ahrens, who may have been a part of an inherently jaded police community and may have been part of a white-separatist organization, did not deserve to die.
His name, just like the names of those before him who lost their lives, should not be dragged after the fact. We are better than that. If you want to use his possible affiliation with white hate groups to talk about a larger issue with vetting officers who police the community, then I'm fine with that. I think too many times, the community-service position of policing has become a fraternity of liked-minded, monolithic, hate-filled thought. This, too, must be weeded out, but we cannot commit a second killing of those who have already been slain.
We must resist the temptation to try and “right” the tragedy by discovering some unsavory bit about the victim’s past to make his death easier to handle. Death is devastating and permanent, and the real tragedy on both sides of these losses is that the family doesn't care who the person supported or what he believed, or how many times he was arrested; they just want their loved one back.