When the news of the two NYPD police officers brutally ambushed in Bedford Stuyvesant quickly spread this weekend, I was sickened. Sickened that Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, two innocent men lost their lives for no reason, just doing their job protecting citizens of NYC and upholding the law. Sickened that the perpetrator Ismaaiyl Brinsley, an apparently mentally disturbed African-American, committed this heinous act in the name of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Earlier in the day, Brinsley shot his ex-girlfriend and killed himself, shortly after attacking the officers.
And finally, sickened that it provides an easy and superficial excuse to politicize the tragedy, branding the huge movement to stop racially biased attacks on blacks as “anti-police.” Patrick Lynch, the head of the NYC Policeman’s Benevolent Association accused Mayor De Blasio who spoke out in support of the rights of people to protest, as “literally [sic] having police blood on his hands” Other right-wing talking heads including former NY Governor Pataki and Rep. Peter King made similar statements alleging that protests against the lack of indictments in these recent police killings directly led to the killing of these two policeman.
The reality is always more complicated than such dim-witted opportunists allow. The condemnation by leaders in the African-American community to these senseless and vicious attacks has been swift and unequivocal. Reverend Al Sharpton and the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner issued statements denouncing the tragedy within hours. Garner’s wife said,
“These two police officers lost their lives senselessly… My husband was not a violent man and we don’t want any violence connected to his name.”
Kareem Abdul Jabbar, whose father and grandfather were both policemen, wrote a profound and moving piece in Time magazine calling the murders “a national tragedy that should inspire nationwide mourning.” He goes on to point out however,
“Their deaths are in no way related to the massive protests against systemic abuses of the justice system by the recent deaths – also national tragedies – of Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, and Michael Brown. Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the suicidal killer, wasn’t an impassioned activist expressing political frustration, he was a troubled man.” (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: This Is Tragedy, Not a Political Opportunity)
Where was the outcry from the PBA or right-wing politicians when two policemen were gunned down in cold blood as they ate pizza on a break in Las Vegas this past June… by a couple of white supremacists? Or when a Pennsylvania State Trooper was assassinated and another critically wounded by a white anti-government right-wing militant in September?
The truth is that senseless violence is senseless violence, symptomatic of the same disease whether it is perpetrated by a few racially biased police officers, out-of-control protestors who went on to burn and loot in response to the Michael Brown decision, or mentally deranged attackers, regardless of the color of their skin. This must end. But to suggest that the peaceful voices against such violence are the precipitating agents is wrong-headed and absurd. The outcries against racially biased policing or in favor of sensible gun control legislation are shining a light on systemic problems needed to help find a cure.