07/22/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

NYPD in Black and White

"What did you think of the shooting in the city the other day?" my friend on the other end of the line asked. He's a retired NYPD lieutenant with 20 years of service.

"What shooting?" I asked - me a retired NYPD detective shot in the line of duty in a bungled buy-and-bust narcotics operation.

"Where the cop shot the other cop," he said matter-of-factly.


It was another case of white-cop-shoots-black-man - and not the first time in New York City history when the black man turned out to be another cop.

"What do you think?" I asked.

"Well," he said after a pause, "another inexperienced young Turk, lacking discretion and judgment, assigned to an anti-crime unit." It brought to mind the Diallo debacle, where four white cops assigned to a street crimes unit panicked and fired 41 shots at an unarmed black man, standing in the doorway of his home in the Bronx. Street crimes unit, anti-crime unit. The name may change but the game is the same.

Most white plainclothes police patrolling the streets of Harlem or the Bronx seem to take for granted that every black or Hispanic male "knows" they are cops, while at the same time assuming that just about every black or Hispanic male is a likely suspect of some misdeed. When I was on the force, cops responding to a call for police assistance in a dispute involving a white and black man would invariably approach the white guy asking, "What's the problem, sir?" I remember one black man saying shyly, "I am the one who called."

Officer Omar J. Edwards has been forever silenced. He is unable to defend himself against the unfair slights of posthumous revisionism, the blaming of the victim.

He was running with his gun drawn, the academic desk jockeys will say.

Officer Edwards had his gun drawn because he was dealing with a crackhead who had broken into his car. Sure, I know what the patrol guide says and what it doesn't say. But no self-respecting police officer is going to see his personal effects rifled and not take immediate action. The report seems to indicate that his shield was properly displayed.

He shouldn't have turned around when he heard someone tell him to stop and drop the gun, the cop self-defense mantra goes on.

Let's get real. Sure, the patrol guide mandates you "remain motionless when so ordered." But the average person is going to look to see who is giving the order.

(One night when I was on the force, I was on duty, wrestling a burglar to the ground, when an unmarked car swerved around the corner. I thought they were coming to assist me, but the two clowns who called themselves "cops" opened fire without saying a word. It was only their bad shooting and my quick response in hitting the ground, thanks to my military training, that saved my life. In the aftermath, after some clever writing and rewriting, they were promoted to detectives.)

And the question remains, was Officer Edwards given a chance to drop his gun before he was cut down in a hale of bullets?

Officer Omar J. Edward, father of two, young, proud, dedicated, still wearing his police academy tee shirt after two years on the job, lay dying on a New York City street, hands shackled behind his back. Mentally teetering between life and death, he was not consoled by his fellow officers to "Hold on, you're gonna make it." He was just another black "perp" victim of police indiscretion, and the higher command's inability or smug unwillingness to properly train and assign its officers.

I was not consoled by my fellow cops either, when I lay bleeding on a filthy tenement landing. No, the assurance came from an old man of color, soothing me and encouraging me to hold on. It felt good.

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