On Saturday, December 20, two on-duty NYPD police officers were shot and killed while sitting in their police vehicle. The suspect who had allegedly shot and wounded his ex-girlfriend earlier in the day in Baltimore, Maryland, then committed suicide in a NYC subway station almost immediately after killing the two officers. This is considered to be tragic loss not only for the police enforcement community, but for the social justice movement as well. Those two communities are not mutually exclusive, despite the racially tinged rhetoric from the likes of NYPD Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch and former Mayor of NYC Rudolph Giuliani.
Undoubtedly, there are many who look at this tragic event and say that this is the proverbial “chicken coming home to roost” due to the fact that these two murders come after denials of justice by grand juries in Ferguson and Staten Island, but more broadly after decades of failed policing tactics such as stop-and-frisk, Operation Clean Halls, and the mentality known as “broken-windows”. However, I say that you cannot throw out the baby with the bath water. Granted there have been outright atrocities perpetrated by police officers in our communities, however, the loss of ANY life tatters the fabric that we call humanity and in the same way that we have protested and advocated for the human rights of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, is the same lens that we should use to view these two murders. The fact that they wear blue should be an outlier, not the primary focus. These two men were fathers, family members and concerned citizens.
The suspect eluded via Instagram that he was going to hurt police officers, based on the pretext that because they were police officers they were somehow against us all. Let’s be clear we are fighting against systems. Systemic racism, classism, exploitation, sexism, etc. That means that the individuals that operate within these systems are a bi-product, not the main focus. Therefore, it would be foolish to believe that ALL police officers are anti-community and do not genuinely want to protect and serve. That does not disqualify the fact that there are inherently racist and disgusting people that wear a police uniform, but in order to reach the goal of systemic change, we must recognize that there are allies within police enforcement agencies, some of whom want reform just as bad as we do, if not more, because they are directly impacted by the system as well.
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Another side of the argument is that all lives are equal. The fact that NYC Mayor de Blasio is calling for protests to be held off in lieu of the two officer’s deaths is unwarranted because this movement is exactly about that; unjust and unwarranted senseless violence. The idea that the mourning for these officers is or should be different than others only perpetuates the ideal of some are “worthier” than others, which is inherently flawed. Was the same asked for any one of the deaths that happened at the hands of police officers? It was not, therefore, it should not be asked. The protesters are pro-justice, and that applies to all instances, including the events that transpired on Saturday.
I recently read a tweet that stated more police deaths were the answer to the problem. My initial reaction was one of disappointment, however, then something dawned on me and I became saddened. It dawned on me that this individual was regurgitating the same mentality of hate, anger and unsympathetic sentiments that have been slung at our people for centuries. Further, what saddened me most was that this individual was totally unaware of that connection. Totally oblivious to the fact that their words are as culpable as the racially and divisive language used by Pat Lynch. Reminding me of the cliche “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.” Yet, to me what is even more disturbing is when you lead a horse to water and they say “What water?”
There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to done to help people heal from the societal trauma, that is trauma inflicted from certain aspects of society, in this case police brutality. As said by Fania Davis, “hurt people, hurt people. Healed people, heal people.” This is an aspect of the conversation that is almost never mentioned, yet it is at the crux of why we are here at this moment in our social and human justice movement. Until we reach that point, there will continue to be tragedies that stem from senseless violence and negatively impact families and communities.