Some Perspective as Officials Exploit Execution of NYPD Officers to Discredit Movement for Police Reform
Two New York police officers were killed by a mentally ill African-American man on December 20. The man, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, posted a message on Instagram suggesting he had chosen the officers as targets as a kind of revenge for police, who had killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Although there is little evidence that these executions were part of some larger and more disturbing trend fueled by protest against police violence, police and government officials seem to be seizing upon this tragedy as an opportunity to pressure nonviolent organizers to bring their acts of dissent to an end.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the “tense relationship between police and protesters” after the Garner grand jury decision “needs to cool.” He declared, “Emotions have run very high over the past few weeks. And I understand it, and we’ve all lived through it, but there is also a system that governs us. There’s a justice system.”
Former New York Governor George Pataki, along with police union officials, suggested that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (and the protesters) had blood on their hands because of recent protests over Garner. “Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of Eric Holder and Mayor de Blasio,” Pataki tweeted.
Patrick Lynch, president of the New York City Police Benevolent Association (NCPBA), declared, “This was a cold-blooded assassination like we haven’t see before.” He continued, “That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor,” and, “Those responsible will be called on the carpet and held accountable.”
The police association issued this explicit statement, “The mayor’s hands are literally dripping with our blood because of his words actions and policies and we have, for the first time in a number of years, become a ‘wartime’ police department. We will act accordingly.”
Lynch has argued that NYPD will not allow protests to “scapegoat” police officers as racists and they will not de-escalate their violence until the protests against police come to a halt.
President Barack Obama has also apparently chosen to use a White House task force empaneled in December to respond to protests against police violence against African-Americans to “address the issue of violence against police and find ways to engage police officers across the US.”
Some perspective is necessary: In 2014, 46 police officers have been killed by gunfire, according to Officer Down Memorial Page which tallies “fallen law enforcement heroes.” Three officers died from being struck by vehicles, five officers died while pursuing vehicles and ten officers died from “vehicular assault.”
By comparison, according to Killed by Police, which keeps track of reports of instances where police shoot and kill suspects, well over 1,000 people have been killed by police this year.
While there are potentially more vigilantes out there who may seek to execute police officers, there is no systemic problem with holding vigilantes who seek revenge against cops accountable for their crimes. There are systemic problems with how the American justice system is setup in ways that make it possible for killer cops to escape justice.
Center for Constitutional Rights executive director Vincent Warren has written, “Our political leaders should not begin to offer solutions for a problem if they won’t even name it: systemic, institutional racism exists in police forces throughout our country.”
Reforms called for by Ferguson Action, such as withdrawing Justice Department funds from police departments which engage in discriminatory practices and using Justice Department funds for better community oversight, could go a long way toward healing communities.
The banner of “Black Lives Matter,” the cry of “I Can’t Breathe,” and the many calls for justice for those killed by police are only divisive in so far as officers and entire police departments implicated ignore the legitimacy of protest directed against them and respond with crude retorts like, “I Can Breathe – Thanks to the NYPD” or “Breathe Easy, Don’t Break the Law.”
Neither Michael Brown’s family nor Eric Garner’s family nor Reverend Al Sharpton nor any person aligned with any movement for police reform has any more of an obligation to condemn violence than police chiefs do when one of their own kills somebody.
The Brown family, Garner family and “Black Lives Matter” should not have to pledge and re-commit the movement they support to nonviolence. The movement has a months-long record of being engaging in direct action that has remained primarily nonviolent. Police in America, on the other hand, have continued to kill with impunity and, when anyone calls for justice or honors the lives of victims, they lash out at communities.
Protest or “anti-police rhetoric” is not what is tearing apart cities like New York. What is tearing American cities apart is systemic racism entrenched in the very judicial system, which Cuomo thinks angry citizens should rely upon instead of continuing to protest (protest, which by the way, likely pressured Cuomo to propose a review of the New York grand jury process).
From schools to prisons, the system disproportionately impacts people of color, particularly black Americans. That racism is reflected in the way that officers (mostly white cops) can use force against anyone and a prosecutor will be there for the police department to help them survive the legal process without going to jail.
Once again, the issue of cop killing or even plain violence against cops pales in comparison to the issues of police violence, which a vibrant movement has focused this country’s attention upon this year.
What people like Patrick Lynch see now is an opportunity to turn public opinion back toward maintaining the status quo. Yet, anyone seeking to exploit the tragic deaths of New York police officers in order to discredit efforts by protests to push for reforms should be ashamed.