The day after the deaths of Officers Ramos and Liu, I had a heated debate with an officer over how the rank and file officers seemed to be misdirecting their anger to the community and public officials instead of directing the anger to who was really responsible. Let’s say that the mayor had “supported” the police more (I don’t even know what that means), how could that have saved these officers lives from a lone, crazed and misguided gunman who had already first shot his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore, MD and then left his own state to come down into our city and shoot two of our officers? Would the endorsement of the NYPD by the mayor have magically made things safer for them? Would they not have to still be vigilant in dangerous and violent neighborhoods? Would there not still be people that would desire to do them harm even if the mayor had said, “way to go, guys!”? People have been attacking police in this city since they were formed in 1844. It’s not a matter of it being acceptable. As long as there are criminals and you decide that you’re going to be one of the people who try to stop crime, you will be in danger of being attacked or even killed. Its the hazard that comes with the territory of being an officer of the law. Those two officers knew this. People who blame Mayor Bill de Blasio, Al Sharpton and the protesters have their anger misplaced.
His response to me was that I didn’t have the right to tell them how to express their anger and I didn’t understand the intricacies of what goes into law enforcement because I am not a police officer. He may be right to a certain extent, however, the fact remains that most human beings understand, regardless of occupation, the difference between right and wrong. What they also know is that this is not the time to point fingers, but figure out how we can fix this situation together.
Unfortunately, there has been strong reluctance by members of the NYPD and their supporters to come together with the community to fill the chasm between police and public. Noteworthy is the fact that the community has shown more remorse, sympathy, empathy and condolences for the slain officers and their families than officers have shown the community in times past when their members have died wrongfully at the hands of the police. There have been those in the institution, instead, who have chosen to lay the blame at the doorsteps of everyone from the protesters to Mayor de Blasio, who they have openly disrespected by turning their backs to him even as he was giving a eulogy for one of their fallen brothers.
Some would say that when you have a paramilitary organization without proper checks and balances, this is what happens. Think about it: when was the last time you openly or privately disrespected your boss and still had a job when the smoke cleared? For decades in this city, the NYPD has had their run of the hen house where they have always had the mayor and commissioner to back them up at every turn even when they were wrong. The last mayor to have the audacity to do otherwise was mayor David Dinkins from the early 90s and we saw how things turned out for him, didn’t we, with hundreds of police rioting in the streets as uniformed officers stood by and smiled. We don’t talk nearly enough about the entitlement issues of many police officers, do we? Entitlement without a sense of accountability is very dangerous.
However, now for the first time in a very long time, that privilege is being challenged, once again, by of all people and Mayor de Blasio who has been elected by the people. But how exactly did the mayor challenge them? He did so by having a genuine moment. In a conference after the grand jury decision not to indict the officer in Eric Garner’s death, he spoke about his black son, Dante, saying, “We’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.” You see, if a person like you or I made this statement, in the grand scheme of things, it would only make so much of an impact. However, when a man like the mayor, who has been elected by the people and who is essentially the commander-in-chief of the NYPD makes a statement like this, it sends shockwaves and ripples throughout the communities and institution, alike.
It’s an uncomfortable and inconvenient elephant in the room, called “Truth” for the NYPD that every one knows is there, but are expected to pretend that it’s just part of the furniture. When you are an individual in power who makes a conscious decision to identify, expose and confront injustice in an institution you command, there will be backlash. There are those who hate the truth, hate the people who speak the truth; all the while accusing those very same people of spreading and inciting hate. They also hate the idea of change because those two concepts, truth and change, carry the implications of admitting that you were not only wrong, but wrong for a very long time. When you have built your entire identity of privilege as an institution on being wrong, the prospect of facing the truth that you need to change is terrifying. People have killed for less.
However, here is the truth: We have not had one case of rioting, looting or burning down of property in New York. Not one! All we have had since the Garner situation is peaceful protest. I’m talking about en masse not isolated incidents where two officers were attacked by a handful of people. An outsider from another state took matters into his own hands and committed this atrocity, not the protesters who marched for social justice and equality under the law, not Al Sharpton or Mayor de Blasio. The truth is that the protests are not about anti-police, they are about anti-brutality. They are not about death to law enforcement officers, but about life and the right to live that life without feeling it is threatened by those who vowed to serve and protect us.
You can indeed condemn police brutality, yet appreciate police officers. You can indeed grieve over the murder of an officer of the law, but continue to stand against police overreach and demand that they be held to a high, if not, higher standard of the law which they have sworn to uphold. It does not have to be “either/or.” It can be “and.” We can have safe, crime-free communities and simultaneously have a police institution that respects the dignity and lives of the people in those communities and if someone tries to tell you different, don’t believe them.
No one in their right mind can condone what happened to officers Ramos and Liu. The community grieves with the families of our fallen officers. However, we cannot allow the tragic deaths of Officers Ramos and Liu to derail the movement of justice and equality because their deaths are one of the very reasons why it must continue. Continued protest and speaking the truth of an ailing criminal justice system honors them and makes their deaths not in vain. Furthermore, to protest against the broken system protects the remaining officers of the law just as much as the citizens that they have sworn to protect. Even though there are those who have sought to lay blame of these officers deaths at the doorsteps of the protesters, I would submit to you that if there were no protests, there would be even more attempted and successful police assassinations. The reason being is that if you try to muffle the voices of the oppressed and the marginalized, actions will speak for them. History has shown this over and over again. If the voices of the people are silenced and their pain is not heard, then more men and women like Ismaaiyl Brinsley will attempt to speak for us. It is inevitable.