At the Memorial for the Two Cops Killed Yesterday in Bed Stuy
On Sunday night, a vigil was being held for officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, the two NYPD officers shot and killed Saturday. I knew about the murders, and knew they happened in Bed-Stuy, where I live, but I didn't realize they happened right here, just a couple blocks from my studio space, until I was driving past the Tompkins-Myrtle intersection on the way home.
I went to see what was going on last night. While I was doing so, specifically while I was getting that wide shot of the intersection, a twenty-something girl who I'd describe as most definitely not from the neighborhood stopped to ask me what was going on. Her response, after I told her: "Oh my god! I was just looking at an apartment two blocks from here!" That was disappointing. But not as disappointing as what I saw and heard when I got home and started reading more about the incident and turned on CNN. The reactions are insane.
While everybody - Christians, Jews, Muslims, all of whom made a visible presence at the memorial and vigil this evening - agree that this is a tragedy, tempers are flaring and misdirected outrage is spilling over into the media. Rather than coming together in a moment when we desperately need to, people are splitting off, dividing into factions, and embarassing themselves.
The greatest antagonism is coming from the NYPD, the NYC Mayor's Office, and those appending the #alllivesmatter (or #bluelivesmatter or #nypdlivesmatter) hashtag to their Tweets on the topic. I'm not even going to try to figure out what's going on in the conspiracy theories bubbling up on Twitter and Instagram. You can find and evalutate those on your own with the hashtag #NYPDshooting.
Those using the #alllivesmatter hashtag are subtly arguing against those who've been using #blacklivesmatter to rally support for justice. So, for them (or you), a refresher: grammatically, structually, as a sentence, "black lives matter" doesn't negate the value of live of any non-black human. Put another way, other lives, other colors of life, are not being disregarded when someone uses #blacklivesmatter. But, because black lives have been and still are disregarded by police and civic institutions, there exists a need to remind members of our society, or inform those who don't already know – about black lives having value. This is why #blacklivesmatter has a place in the digital conversation. #alllivesmatter doesn't have a place in the conversation any more than #wateriswet. Society as a whole already agrees that lives matter. Same goes for #bluelivesmatter and #nypdlivesmatter. We know these things. We're not disregarding those lives. That's why we're outraged as a nation about the actions of one man. Listen, there are better essays and a whole thing on Twitter just for the point I'm trying to make.
“There’s blood on many hands tonight. Those that incited violence on the streets under the guise of protest that tried to tear down what NYPD officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated.”
“That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the office of the mayor.”
“Those who allowed this to happen will be held accountable.”
“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.”
– Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch.
A leader of New York's Finest is acting in worst way right now. At a moment where the nation is behind the NYPD and grieves with it, the NYPD is literally turning its back on their mayor, Bill de Blasio, instead of trying to work together. I get it. The people behind the badges are demoralized and angry, understandably, because two of their own were murdered. The man who murdered their fellow officers killed himself at the scene of the crime. There will be no opportunity for justice, the thing the people behind the badges literally live for. They need someone to blame.
But blaming the mayor? Because De Blasio allowed people to peacefully protest? Because protests lead to murder? These things have nothing to do with each other to start with, but the dissociative disorder that Lynch is presently enduring and the podium he's been given have allowed the planted of these thoughts in many minds.
The protests did not "incite this violence," as Lynch claimed. The protests didn't cause these murders and the mayor didn't cause the protests, therefore the mayor is not to blame for the murders. Why does this even have to be explained? There's no evidence, no logical connection between these things at all, even if you read between all the lines and pixels of the shooter's Instagram posts. If you read Brinsley's Instagram posts, it's clear he was insane and alone. If we're going to tie things together, it's ignorance of what's factual and irrationality in the infrastructure that's led the NYPD make the bad decisions, and that's what has made NYPD the subject of protests.
The protests are going to continue, if not escalate, and the mandate reforms is going to come. Lynch is proactively resisting this. Lynch is using the outrage at a tragedy as political opportunity to retain power in reform negotiations months or years from now. "Lynch's rhetoric is tied to the fact that he's a union leader, he's gotta negotiate with the Mayor down the line," said Rev. Calvin Butts.
Instead of calling out Lynch for the rhetoric and misplaced animosity, or calming the public, or leading all of us, reminding us that there is no contradiction in both supporting police reform and supporting the police, De Blasio seems to have turned his back on the citizens. He said that this is not the time for protests and called for them to stop. The moment for discussing the police reforms will come "in due time," he said. OK. But if protests are stopped, when would they restart?
You can look at the mayor's statement from another perspective though. If protests were held now with so many officers in an heightened emotional state, one or more would undoubtedly overreact against a participant in the protests, likely with disproportionate violence, and escalate the situation. Maybe De Blasio is doing and saying the right thing in the big picture, protecting the citizens from the police, even if it appeases no one right now.
Most important in the discussion are the voices of reason, of which there are too few. The mayor's press secretary, the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and legendary former basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabar are speaking wisdom.
When he was asked about the reactions from the unions, the mayor’s press secretary said that it was “unfortunate that in a time of great tragedy, some would resort to irresponsible, overheated rhetoric that angers and divides people,” reports the New York Times.
"Sometimes with high emotion you stop hearing and processing. And I think that's where we are now. It's not productive, it's potentially destructive," Cuomo said. "People have strong feelings. I understand that, I respect that, but I ask people to join me to bring a period of calm this week."
"I think that is the negative cycle that we are in. I don't want to point fingers, I don't want to cast blame," Cuomo said. "I think Mayor de Blasio is doing the best he can under very difficult circumstances to hear all sides of the matter. You have polarization in this city and that's the fundamental issue. You have two different points of view that right now are seemingly irreconcilable."
At the same time, however, we need to understand that their deaths are in no way related to the massive protests against systemic abuses of the justice system as symbolized 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 who had shot his girlfriend earlier that same day. He even Instagrammed warnings of his violent intentions. None of this is the behavior of a sane man or rational activist. The protests are no more to blame for his actions than The Catcher in the Ryewas for the murder of John Lennon or the movieTaxi Driver for the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. Crazy has its own twisted logic and it is in no way related to the rational cause-and-effect world the rest of us attempt to create. – via Abdul-Jabar's essay in Time.
Before you let your outrage, grief and other emotions – all justified to have in this tumult – lead you to conclusions, please, consider the bigger picture. The deaths of two officers at the hands of a lone gunman is not a reason to allow further militarization of the police. The deaths of two police officers is a tragedy and police reform is still necessary. Though we should seek calm first and do so right now, the protests should not stop. The system is still broken and the system still needs to be changed.
Protests are not the problem, they're where the conversation on change starts.