On December 20, New York City suffered an incredible tragedy: Depraved, cowardly madman Ismaaiyl Brinsley murdered NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. There is not a scintilla of justification for Brinsley's actions, and it shall always be a sad chapter of our city's history.
However, what has concerned me and many others is that some folks are attempting to coopt this tragedy to slander the Black Lives Matter movement and quash any attempt at reforms or accountability. Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch (no relation to me) was quick to blame seemingly all critics of law enforcement when he declared, "There's blood on many hands tonight." He then called for an end to the Black Lives Matter movement when he said, "It must not go on, it cannot be tolerated."
Fraternal Order of Police national president Chuck Canterbury gave a similar response, imploring us to end criticism of law enforcement officers and regard their work as performed perfectly: "Enough is enough. There's nothing wrong with the way cops do their jobs that won't be fixed when politicians suck it up and attack the problems that breed poverty and crime." (Granted, I give him props for that last part.)
The editorial board at the New York Post also came down hard on demonstrators and critics of law enforcement in reaction to the two murdered officers:
Clearly, the protesters -- egged on by politicians and professional activists -- have engaged in a warped campaign to fuel anger at cops. Even before Saturday's slaying of these officers, some protesters had become violent and attacked cops.
"What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!" some chanted last week.
Now they've got their wish.
Less than two days later the editorial board was at it again:
For weeks, our elites have validated the "anger" of the protesters who have been taking over streets, bridges and tunnels.
However, the Black Lives Matter movement has always been overwhelmingly committed to nonviolence. This started back in August at the time of the "We Will Not Go Back" march, which I helped organize with my friend Al Sharpton, along with several labor unions. In the days leading to the march, Sharpton penned a blog post on The Huffington Post expressing his support for police and for nonviolence:
The moment we lose our pledge to a non-violent movement, we become part of what we claim to be fighting. Do not allow this to happen; we must remain dedicated to a higher moral commitment. ... As I have often stated, not all police officers are bad. In fact, I believe most of them truly are doing their best to protect people and reduce crime.
The reverend reiterated this at the August rally:
We are not here to cause violence. ... We are not against police. Most police do their job. But those that break the law must be held accountable. ... We are for police.
This was not simply empty rhetoric: There was not a single arrest at the August march.
Nor were there any incidents at last month's Harlem vigil, whose scope was expanded to also be a vigil for the murdered cops. At the event, participants politely obliged with the requests of NYPD officers, who reciprocated with thank-yous. During the vigil event, one speaker proclaimed, "We're not anti-police; we're anti-police-brutality. Every cop isn't bad." And, for those of you who gripe that black folks ignore the issue of crime among ourselves, during the service following the vigil, Eric Garner's nephew gave a speech declaring, "I truly believe that when anybody gets murdered, by a police officer or by one of our kind, we should take the same stance."
Nevertheless, the news media has been hard at work tracking down the handful of protesters and others who did or even wrote something violent in order to stereotype the entire Black Lives Matter movement as violent. And when there isn't something, the news media has resorted to doctoring footage to make it look like a protester is calling for killing police when she was actually protesting peacefully.
The Post has been at the forefront of this tactic. For example, a columnist wrote an op-ed entitled, "Thought those anti-cop [sic] protesters were peaceful? Think again." He goes on to cite a single violent incident in which Eric Linsker attempted to throw a garbage can and then attacked two cops trying to arrest him, while a few other protesters intervened physically.
I do not condone this action, but nevertheless this columnist apparently could only find one incident involving violence. And the Post's own video of the incident shows, by my count, seven or eight people being physical, where the physicality is mostly tugging at the officers trying to detain one person. Moreover, Linsker's attorney later described the attempted throwing of the garbage can as being that he picked up a garbage can, then put it down at the behest of police.
However, this single incident was enough for the Post to typify the entire demonstration as violent by using the headline "Poet accused of assaulting cops during 'peaceful' protest," as opposed to something more accurate like "Poet accused of assaulting cops during otherwise peaceful protest."
The same columnist also pointed to video of a few dozen protesters calling for dead cops, albeit while engaging in a nonviolent march. A quick glance of the video shows a few dozen people, maybe 40 tops, which he somehow estimates it to be "hundreds if not thousands."
Based on this evidence, the columnist declares, "Let's make believe that only an itsy-bitsy handful of those anti-police protesters disrupting the city are hell-bent on mayhem." That statement is quite ironic because, although I was never that good at math, by my calculations about 50 people out of thousands actually is an itsy-bitsy handful.
And when editorial boards and Patrick Lynch are lambasting critics of law enforcement, they may want to take note of the number of conservative commentators who denounced the grand jury decision in the Eric Garner case. This includes FOX News commentators Charles Krauthammer and Andrew Napolitano, who respectively called the decision not to indict as "totally incomprehensible" and "a grievous wrong." That might have made for some awkward moments at the holiday party of the News Corporation, which owns the Post and FOX News, if anyone at the paper's editorial board bumped into Krauthammer or Napolitano, considering that the board implied their co-workers are among the "elites" who "validated the 'anger' of the protesters" and helped incite Ramos' and Liu's murders.
But you know what? Let's do an intellectual exercise and take as fact that the Black Lives Matter movement is violent based on the Post's standards. Now, let's apply that logic consistently. How about sports fans who loot and riot after games, whether their team wins or loses? Last year, fans at the University of Arizona rioted and attacked police after their basketball team lost in the March Madness tournament. This past October, fans at West Virginia University "celebrated" their football team's upset victory over Baylor by setting fires and damaging property. Even worse, one person was actually killed in a soccer riot in Spain last November, as reported by the Post.
But did the paper accompany the article with an op-ed entitled, "Thought sports fans were peaceful? Think again"? Have there been calls for all sporting events to be held in empty arenas? Or that no one should ever again peacefully celebrate or lament the outcome of a sporting event? The next time a New York sports franchise wins a championship (God willing), will the Post publish an editorial saying we not have a victory parade?
Let's also apply this logic to typify law enforcement officers based on the actions of a few. New York Magazine compiled a list of comments in response to Garner's murder. These comments were posted on the police message boards Thee RANT and PoliceOne. Both message boards require users to provide documentation in order to be verified as police officers before they can post.
Here are some of the lowlights of message board postings by verified law enforcement officers in response to Garner's homicide. All spelling and grammatical mistakes in the original:
Tough shit and too damn bad.
I guess it's the best thing for his tribe. He probably never worked a legit job. They city will pay off the family and they will be in Nigggaaa heaven for the rest of their lives!!
If the fat fuk just put his hands behind his back none of this would have escalated into what it did.
The cities of America are held hostage by the strong-arm tactics of the savages
After the grand jury decided not to indict Officer Pantaleo, forum users expressed similar sentiments:
I WILL DO EVERYTHING IN MY POWER TO KEEP MY 2 SONS FROM EVER, EVER BEING LEOS [law enforcement officers]...I will not let my sons be sacraficed for ungrateful, spoiled, hateful animals.
Thank the good Lord it happened in the Isle of Staten where there are still some working class white folks.
F u c k Black America, their equal or worse than whites, when speaking of Racism...
F u c k Diversity, it's not working and never will work...Diversity only accomplishes one thing, Lazy, Dumb idiots who don't care about any Position they attain, You Listening Mr. President ?
And this, ahem, insensitivity is not limited to message boards. There was also this police charity event in California last month, hosted by retired LAPD officer Joe Myers, with an estimated 25 to 30 LAPD officers in attendance. The event included a performance by former federal investigator Gary Fishell, who mocked Michael Brown's death with a song parody of "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" where "Michael" replaced "Leroy." Reportedly no one at the event voiced any objection to the song, whose lyrics included the following:
And Michael looked like some old Swiss cheese
His brain was splattered on the floor
And he's dead, dead Michael Brown
Deadest man in the whole damn town
So is all of this conclusive evidence that all law enforcement officers are racist? Of course not. Because this all adds up to a handful of disparate anecdotes from a minute fraction of police. And that's exactly my point: Do not characterize any broad cross-section of people -- be it cops, protesters, or anyone else -- based on cherry picking what a few of them do or say.
You know what? I'll hold my nose and empathize with the Post a little bit. I hope their editors and columnists are slandering the Black Lives Matter movement because somewhere deep, deep down inside they think it's for a good end, misguided though it may be. Heck, I'll even concede that Patrick Lynch's job is to advocate for his membership, not to be polite or strive for accuracy.
But we cannot and will not allow any smears to quash the movement to end excessive force by a small percentage of law enforcement officers. This is a critical juncture, one where folks are more vocal than ever before about criminal justice reform, and the horrific murders of two NYPD officers must not be a strawman for ending any type of reform. We've gained too much momentum to let that happen.