“I’m 58 years old,” he said, shaking his head at the media circus one block away, standing near a bodega on Tompkins and Vernon Avenues, indignant that the murder of two police officers last Saturday afternoon had become “a kind of 9/11.” He remembers seeing two cops getting killed not too far away, on Willoughby and Throop, in 1974. He was 20 years old, ducking behind a car amid the fusillade of bullets. “It happens,” he said. “Move on.”
What irked him is that the killer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, didn’t come from the nearby projects, swarmed with news vans and a makeshift memorial next to Mike’s Pizza, but from Baltimore, where Brinsley earlier that day had shot his ex-girlfriend. “I’ve been around this muthafucka,” the man said, resentful that people like him are likely to feel the weight of an increased police presence. Not that there wasn’t already what is effectively a military-esque occupation of the neighborhood (and every other public housing project) for years, with large bright lights flooding the streets at night and constant patrols. Something like this, as terrible as it is for the families of the slain officers and the city at large, seemed bound to happen.
The way that this incident is being portrayed is not the way things appear a few blocks away from the scene of the crime. There is no celebration here of dead cops, only the stagnant atmosphere of dread that the murders will be exploited by those who seek to further oppress minority communities instead of embrace the urgent need for national police reform, so that events like the Liu-Ramos slaying — in cold-blooded summary execution — never happen again. Instead, what we are being told from the news media is that we are a nation divided.
“The horrifying killings of two police officers in Brooklyn on Saturday shock the soul of the city and require us all to stop to honor the dead, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. … There is no evidence” that Brinsley, 28, “had any connection to the recent months of peaceful protests for police reform. But he linked those earlier tragedies [or crimes, but no one will know because there will be no trials] to his hateful words and unspeakable act, fatally coloring [that’s subtle] how others will perceive it.” The mayor “cannot allow it to fracture into opposing camps of those who support outraged protesters and those who stand with aggrieved cops.”
This was made all the worse by the flamethrowing words of the police union chief Patrick Lynch, who all but blamed Mayor De Blasio for the attack. “Officers Ramos and Liu were patrolling in Brooklyn not to oppress but to serve and protect,” the NYT editorial board concluded. However noble, that sentiment misses the point that was wisely put forward by the #BlackLivesMatter movement: do not miss the forest for the trees. Good trees can exist in a broken forest. On the same day, an editorial in the Wall St. Journal deliberately sowed divisions and seemed to pander to a fearful white readership. The officers “had been marked for death near a high-crime housing project they were trying to protect against criminal predators. … America is full of Brinsleys who no longer abide the norms of civilized behavior, if they even know what those norms are. They need but the slightest excuse to take justice into their own hands and go on a rampage. Especially in urban America, the police walk that line between civilization and mayhem every day.”
A mentally-ill homeless man in Milwaukee, Dontre Hamilton, was killed by a police officer on Apr. 30, another man in a long list of unarmed American citizens whose lives were taken by law enforcement officers for the crime of being poor and black and seen through a prism of fear, and yet again a grand jury chose not to indict the officer on Dec. 22. Protests there and in other places are ongoing.
Charles Blow succintly captured the tenor of the movement and the moment: “All lives are valuable — those of the public and the police. We can and must condemn the deranged suicidal cop killer (who also shot his former girlfriend [in the stomach]) as well as the cops who kill. There is no contradiction there. Humanity is the common thread.” This is America’s problem. We are one country, and as one country we must all take a share in the responsibility of fixing it.