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“What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!”
Toni Brinker Pickens still remembers hearing those chilling words during a New York City street protest in the fall of 2014.
The Dallas resident and wife of global financier T. Boone Pickens was so alarmed and stunned by the raw bluntness of the chant by a group of Americans that she formed a nonprofit, Operation Blue Shield, shortly afterward. She saw a tremendous need for better understanding between police and people in communities all over the country — so it’s no accident her group’s motto is, “We’re All In.”
After the horrific events in Dallas, Texas, Thursday night, in which 12 police officers were shot by snipers and five killed, more people are coming to grips with this notion.
Now a 15-month-old nonprofit, Operation Blue Shield creates, promotes, and funds programs that bring citizens together with law enforcement, first responders, and local government officials. Community-focused activities such as lunches, athletic events, and more get people talking to one another — and in the process, forming mutually beneficial connections.
“Our country desperately needs a unified message of change, trust, and unity,” she told LifeZette Friday, as the nation continued to reel from the events of Thursday night. “That begins with supporting those who have taken an oath to serve and protect.”
“We have to double our commitments to help change the direction of the country,” said Toni Pickens.
“Citizens and first responders working together for positive change is the first step to bringing our communities and our country back together.”
Pickens added, “We have to double our commitments to help change the direction of the country. The rule of law is what keeps us from becoming a third-rate power. Stealing our democracy is not going to happen.”
A former police officer also believes that. The Dallas shootings “were one of the most cowardly acts you can commit,” said Dr. Eric Quarles, a criminal justice expert in Washington, D.C., and a former member of the Atlanta police force. “Those who were involved need to be prosecuted to the maximum penalty that the justice system will allow.”
Quarles is among those who believe the sniper attacks on Thursday night were planned in advance.
“The attacks that happened in Dallas were planned for a while — this wasn’t just something they decided to do last night. I feel they were in the works for some time. That’s not just something you pull off on the spur of the moment. Given the vantage point, the tactics, I think they took the opportunity to do this last night during the protest — but I think it was pre-planned.”
A sniper later identified as Micah X. Johnson, said to be a former Army reservist, fired at police during the demonstration in Dallas. In addition to the officers, several civilians were wounded. Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown told reporters Friday morning that the sniper — whom officers ultimately killed using a robotic device armed with explosives — told negotiators he was not part of a group or organization, but wanted to kill white people and white officers in response to a string of recent officer-involved shootings.
“We as police have the ability to change the community we work in,” Quarles said. “It depends on how the police department handles it. We are the changing agent in our community. The tone that the police set will determine the next course of action.”
As a result of the Dallas events, officers in several major cities, including New York City and Philadelphia, will be patrolling in pairs going forward. Police in Cleveland are also tightening security procedures in advance of the Republican National Convention, July 18-21.
Calls continue across the country for better protection of, and respect for, our armed officers — while acknowledging some painful realities in America.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who is also a potential vice presidential pick for Donald Trump’s GOP ticket, said on “Fox and Friends” Friday morning, “We have to be concerned about people who may be shot by the police, and we have to be enraged and totally determined to hunt down people who shoot the police. The police are the last line of civilization, and it is very important that every policeman and their family feel that the community cares about them and is grateful to them.”
The country must also indicate “absolute support for the policemen and the firemen and the people who risk their lives,” who guard our country and communities and keep law and order, he said.
Brinker noted the importance of donations to on-the-ground causes such as Operation Blue Shield when there are tragic situations such as the one in Dallas. “One hundred percent of the donations go directly to those in need,” she said, “and as a nonprofit, we can make sure that happens.”
Maureen Mackey and Deirdre Reilly contributed reporting to this article.