It has become increasingly clear that many of us who have been advocating about better relationships and reforms have not done our job in recognizing the humanity of police officers just as those rallying against the protesters and rioters have failed to acknowledge theirs. Personally, one of my most oft cited reasons for opposing the War in Iraq was that I didn’t believe in the cause that my peers–people I did or likely may have attended High School with–were being sent to their graves. Likewise, Police Officers are our peers, just as our soldiers are; it is wholly possible to disagree with the nature of policing and support the individuals in uniform as it is to support individual soldiers and dislike the conduct of a war.
Yesterday, in a tragic execution style murder, a complete maniac killed two police officers on their meal break in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. At the same time half a country away, a huge #BlackLivesMatter protest was marching through and shutting down significant portions of the country’s largest shopping mall, The Mall of America. The situation is horrific and for the families of the officers, their worst nightmares come to full vivid and heartbreaking reality. The conversation of people’s lives, families, and communities is at the heart of the current protests and unspeakably evil actions such as these are not the way to building stronger ties between the police and the policed. There is a difference between trying to create traffic jams and keep folks from shopping, and murdering hardworking men, eating their lunches, with their backs turned. Nobody deserves the awful death that came the way of these officers.
As the news of the deaths of Police Officer Wenjian Liu and Police Officer Rafael Ramos starting trending and breaking, many from both sides of recent tensions took a moment to acknowledge that this is not the way to demonstrate frustrations, or even rage, at the state of police and community interactions and the ongoing incidences of police violence. The shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, shot and killed his girlfriend earlier in the day in Baltimore County, Maryland, then leaving a trail of posts and damning statements across social media came to Brooklyn where he mercilessly shot the two officers from behind as they ate their lunch. He later ended his cowardice in a nearby subway station and committed suicide.
New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has attempted to link the actions of Brinsley to the protest movement he hardly represents the ideal of non-violence that the most ardent protesters are hoping for. The heart of speaking against police brutality is speaking against brutality as a means to an end and speaking against blind discrimination as a dehumanizing approach to interactions. Violence like this, and the endorsement of it, will do little to help any groups or communities come to better understandings and interactions; it will make the world worse…not better.
Patrick Lynch, President of the Policeman’s Benevolent Association released a statement that the NYPD is now a “wartime” police force, a designation that has not been in use for decades. From the perspective of the police officers, it is of course easy to link these events and declare it war; those who have been protesting have already felt occupied, and so we are in a full on military analogy. However, given the current situation, it would be hard to imagine not taking that stance when you approach current events from the police perspective. The PBA also released a statement that two squad cars are to arrive to address any and all complaints.
The downright evil and murderous actions of Brinsley will do nothing except embolden those who support the brutal actions taken by police and give fuel to the fire of those who would characterize the policed as animals. Lynch’s comments, while dripping with rightful outrage also contains alarming statements against protest and comes dangerously close to an endorsement of the limitation of First Amendment Rights. At the same time, the shooting has taken the conversation of #BlackLivesMatter to a horrible extreme. This execution did not transpire in a vacuum and it behooves anyone looking for meaningful bridge building to denounce these crimes wholeheartedly, openly, and not espouse any conversation otherwise. Any demagogues working against peaceful means are themselves a part of the cycle of violence.
I was appalled when I started following threads on the topic and saw the ignorance floating around. From people evoking “eye for an eye” to others making jokes, and more yet claiming that these events are only right, this approach is not only counterproductive but essentially inhuman and antisocial. For many there seems to be no line between the issues with the culture of policing and the police officers themselves, and the distinction is important. As much as the argument is that police officers hardly see more than a hoodie, these fools aren’t seeing anything more than a badge and a hat. At the end of the day, everyone has families to go home to–we all return from the same earth that sprang us out.
There is no increased humanity in the dehumanizing of others, and for these reasons I cannot and will not abide by any argument that this is somehow a balancing of justice. Those who insist that killing these officers, or maliciously setting out to injure, attack, or harm any police officers is a fool who does not understand where authority is derived from. We, the people, give authority to these men and women it is by our voices and not our hands that our power is given and it is through that method that change occurs.
Throughout the conversation it is equally horrifying to hear the ignorant misappropriate both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X as they see fit. Malcolm X is especially misappropriated by those who would see us all blinded. Often quoted with his creed of “by any means necessary”, people often forget that any means does not inherently refer to violence, and furthermore that Malcolm X himself reserved violence as a last resort only when in direct danger:
“It doesn’t mean that I advocate violence, but at the same time, I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence.”
…and for a point of clarification:
“I don’t mean go out and get violent; but at the same time you should never be nonviolent unless you run into some nonviolence. I’m nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me. But when you drop that violence on me, then you’ve made me go insane, and I’m not responsible for what I do.”
Police Officer Wenjian Liu and Police Officer Rafael Ramos were not offering violence when they were killed. The distinction belongs to Ismaaiyl Brinsley and should be denounced entirely. Signing on to this murder also makes you co-signer to the shooting of Brinsley’s girlfriend. To the pain of the officer’s children and wives; parents and cousins; families and friends. The associations that are time and again pulled out at rallies to humanize the victims of other brutality. I won’t post them here, but you need only look for Jaden Ramos’ Facebook post about his father’s death to understand this is a human issue and not a political one.
To those who advocate for the killing of Police in the streets, or for violence against police officers unilaterally: what does that aim to accomplish? Should there be complete anarchy? No police officers? In the absence of police, we’ll have the military in the streets. The actual military. What scales of justice does this balance? There are indeed far more good instances of policing than violent ones–it is only the violent cases, the abusive officers, that need addressing. What are your alternatives? An eye for an eye will leave us all blind. Marching the streets needs to be coupled with action, but not murder. Going to war with ourselves will do nothing but widen the divides between us.
This isn’t about a blue line in the sand, its about red blood in the street. When people die in violence and pain it is never a moment rejoice; it diminishes us all to see lives and families broken this way. Murder is not a rallying cry.