On Saturday in Bed-Stuy, in a despicable act of violence, 28-year-old Ismaaiyi Brinsley shot and killed NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. The police officers were in their patrol car outside the Tompkins Houses. Brinsley walked past the cruiser, circled back, and fired four shots. He then ran into a subway station and shot himself. Brinsley, who reportedly had a long history of mental illness, had, earlier in the day, shot his ex-girlfriend Shaneka Thompson at her home in Baltimore. He had also posted a message on Instagram earlier in the day about his intentions. “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They Take 1 of Ours…Let’s Take 2 of Theirs #ShootThePolice #RIPEricGarner #RIPMikeBrown,” he wrote in a caption, adding, “This May Be My Final Post.”
The execution-style murder of two police officers was abominable and tragic, and was roundly denounced by the leaders of the recent protests connected to the grand jury decisions over the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island. The family of Michael Brown released a statement late Saturday condemning the killing of Officers Liu and Ramos. “We reject any kind of violence directed toward members of law enforcement,” the statement read. “It cannot be tolerated. We must work together to bring peace to our communities.”
But some politicians and police organizations laid the blame for the killing squarely on the shoulders of the Garner and Brown protestors as well as Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had expressed sympathy for the protestors. Patrick Lynch, the President of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association summed up many of those responses. “There’s blood on many hands tonight,” he said. “Those that incited violence on the streets under the guise of protest that tried to tear down what NYPD officers did every day.” Former Governor Pataki chimed in with a similar sentiment:
— George E. Pataki (@GovernorPataki) December 21, 2014
De Blasio now faces anger on both sides: The protestors who feel he isn’t doing enough to protect communities of color from police brutality and the officials who think that the mayor isn’t doing enough to support NYPD officers in the momentous task of keeping the city safe.
But this divide is a false one. To conflate the demands of protestors with the murderous rampage of Brimsley is not only ludicrous, it’s insulting. The essential message of the marchers supporting Eric Garner and Michael Brown is of police responsibility, not police extinction. A rally for a change in police policy, particularly towards people of color, is not an attack, nor is it a call for violence against police officers.
We live in New York City, a place where the value of first responders like the NYPD and FDNY is never far from mind. Every September, we are reminded about the fearlessness and self-sacrifice of the men in blue who rushed in to help in the wake of the greatest national tragedy in recent memory. The city could not operate without a police force. Further, the NYPD provides steady employment for hundreds of New Yorkers, many of them also people of color, like Ramos and Liu.
I cannot speak for every protester, every person who has expressed dismay at the failure of grand juries to indict police officers in the deaths of Garner and Brown. They no doubt number in the millions. Surely, there are some who advocate violence against the police. But those people are a tiny minority. What the protests are against is racism, and the NYPD (and other police forces across the country) as tools of a racist system. They are about finding a way to make sure that black lives count as much as white ones in the eyes of police officials. It is incredible to have to type that in 2014, but here we are.
It is possible to support police officers and still want the policies of the NYPD to change. In fact, it is essential.