We have written a lot on the issue of the police and minority relations in the aftermath of Ferguson and Staten Island and the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But I still think there is a major disconnect going here in the back and forth “dialogue.”
I put “dialogue” in quotes because, to a large extent, I think the two sides are speaking past each other. Specifically, I don’t believe that the more conservative side of the conversation really understands the chief complaint. I see that when counter-incidents where blacks killed whites are cited, and more recently I see that in comments about young men being killed in Chicago and the rejoinder is, “Can’t blame white police officers for those shootings, can we?”
Conservatives, perhaps understandably, want to shift the conversation to “black on black violence,” where I do think they have a point. There are high rates of violence and violent crimes within the African-American community and, yes, that is a problem. I attempted to address that point within the broader context of mass incarceration and the poverty-crime-incarceration cycle which I think is going to be far more difficult to break than it might seem.
The issue of police militarization, where we had a local discussion and debate, enters play here, as well. As the police have become more militarized, as they have utilized military weapons and tactics, they have increased the divide between citizens and police.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in minority communities which have far closer proximity to the show of power by police.
You see, this was never really about Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or really about the killing of young black lives.
Instead, this was about race, power and a system that was affirmed in the eyes of so many as being unjust.
As “Gideon” wrote in her blog, “a public defender,” “It’s about anger at a system which has trained the powerless to accept their lack of power over and over again. It’s about anger at a system, that despite the promises of the civil rights era, has only affirmed the status quo: some lives are worth more than others. Some people will always get punished more harshly than others.
“It’s about anger that those who are the most underprivileged, the most disenfranchised continue to be subjugated under the guise of the best system in the world.
“It’s about anger that the ethnic majority has historically viewed and continues to view minorities as dangerous and frightening. It’s about anger that the majority is doing its best to clutch onto its slipping grasp through intimidation and fear.”
Officer Wilson’s description of Michael Brown confirmed for many what they had already believed, “Wilson shot Brown because of what he believed about black people; what we’ve all read and heard about black people; what we’ve all been conditioned to realize about black people; what popular media regularly portrayed black people as.”
As Officer Wilson testified, “He looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”
So you have a law enforcement officer, who has de-humanized a young man whom he killed.
Later he would add, “He turns, and when he looked at me, he made like a grunting, like aggravated sound and he starts, he turns and he’s coming back towards me. His first step is coming towards me, he kind of does like a stutter step to start running. When he does that, his left hand goes in a fist and goes to his side, his right one goes under his shirt in his waistband and he starts running at me. At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way.”
In other words, Michael Brown, at the moment Darren Wilson shot him, looked like an animal to him.
Heated Rhetoric Goes Both Ways
Again, I was disappointed that the conservatives on the Vanguard spent much of the weekend blaming the shooting of two police officers on rhetoric by people like Al Sharpton or Louis Farrakhan. We have no evidence that the individual shooter was listening to either man or even that he was reacting to anything other than the anger of the time.
Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the man who killed the two officers, shot his former girlfriend in Maryland before heading up to New York and killing Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos on Saturday.
News accounts show that the 28-year-old, who has been arrested in Ohio for theft and robbery and in Georgia for robbery, shoplifting, carrying a concealed weapon, disorderly conduct and obstruction of a law enforcement officer, served two years in prison in Georgia on weapons charges.
On Saturday morning he went to his ex-girlfriend’s, and attempted to kill himself. When she intervened, he non-fatally shot her and went up to New York to kill the police.
The conservatives on our site have nothing, however, on some of the rhetoric that has come out of the police unions. Mayor Bill de Blasio is under fire by five police unions because he expressed sympathy with the protesters and has called on reform in efforts to ensure that everyone feels like they are getting fair treatment from the police.
Pat Lynch, president of the city’s largest police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said on Saturday night: “There’s blood on many hands tonight, that blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the Office of the Mayor.”
The Sergeants Benevolent Association tweeted on Saturday night, “The blood of 2 executed police officers is on the hands of Mayor de Blasio. May God bless their families and may they rest in peace.”
On Monday, a New York Congressman accused President Obama and Mayor de Blasio of creating an anti-police atmosphere that encouraged the shooting.
“This climate is attracting the mad men in society and also giving a legitimacy to these violent protesters,” said Congressman King during an interview Monday morning on Fox News, who added that he did not believe they were doing so intentionally.
“Right now I think it’s important for the president and the mayor, if they are serious about healing what they believe is this rift — or this feud if you will, this chasm, in race relations — for them to come out and start giving praise to the police,” he said.
“Much like we shouldn’t be blaming a president for the deaths of soldiers on the battlefield, let’s not point fingers at the mayor for a madman’s actions. It’s ridiculous to believe that if only de Blasio had been more like Rudy Giuliani, Officers Liu and Ramos would be alive,” said NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt in a column. “It’s the same sloppy and dangerous logic in which people tried to blame American foreign policy for the 9/11 attacks, saying the chickens have come home to roost. There are plenty of chickens that fly around on their own.”
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, the same guy who investigated the UC Davis pepper spray incident in 2011, noted that Mayor De Blasio is not the first mayor to have the unions go after him.
“Can you point out to me one mayor that has not been battling with the police unions in the last 50 years? Name one. Name one. So the experience of this mayor in terms of some cops not liking him — it’s nothing new,” said Commissioner Bratton. “It’s part of life. It’s part of politics. It is what it is. This is New York City; we voice our concerns and our opinions.”
A few key points – it is hard to imagine that the rhetoric of the mayor would inspire the killing by a man not even living in New York at the time. Clearly, the heated atmosphere of the incidents that have gone viral was a contributing factor – but, at the same time, it is clear from his earlier incidents that he was unstable to begin with. The atmosphere may have made police officers targets of opportunity, but again it seems difficult to pin the actions on any one individual.
More importantly, the police unions – who should know better, as law enforcement officers – are throwing fuel on the fire at a time when everyone needs to take a step back and more methodically plot out their next approach.
If we are going to point the fingers at public officials for making irresponsible statements, shouldn’t we start with the police unions, who are hardly helping matters?
I go back to the point I tried to make on Sunday, that we are now truly at a crossroads. The shooting of two police officers in New York is tragic, it is inexcusable and it is counter-productive. There will be plenty of fingers pointed in the aftermath.
We need to remember that this nation remains bitterly divided along racial lines, but we have made progress. What has emerged in the aftermath of Ferguson and Staten Island and others is not something new, it is long-dormant and suppressed anger and frustration in the black community.
I think President Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address embodies the spirit of where we need to go: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting