Today I had to say bye to my father. He was their [sic] for me everyday of my life, he was the best father I could ask for. It's horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people that they call for help. I will always love you and I will never forget you. RIP Dad.
Jaden Ramos, 13 year old son of slain NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos
Clarity Over Hatred
Like a brief break in a violent storm, there are times when in the wake of
unspeakable loss, there is fragile opportunity for clarity, introspection and the
amelioration of hatred.
At 2:47 P.M. Saturday, two New York City Police Officers Wenjian Liu, 32 and Rafael Ramos, 40 of the 84th precinct were shot to death in a brazen day time "revenge" assassination while in their patrol car on a Brooklyn street in New York's 79 Precinct. Ramos, who with his wife have two sons was about to become a "community crisis" chaplain at Christ Tabernacle Church in Queens. The Daily News has reported that the New York Yankees will pay for the brothers' education. Liu had just been married two months ago.
They are the eighth set of NYPD partners to be killed in the line of duty. There have been 113 line of duty police deaths this year, with 46 from hostile gunfire, up from 30 in 2013. Two Las Vegas police officer partners were gunned down earlier this year by anti-government extremists.
The assailant a 28 year old with a criminal record, shot his former girlfriend earlier Saturday morning in Baltimore County, posted threats on Instagram about previous police shootings, and drove to New York: "I'm putting wings on pigs. They take one of ours, we take two of theirs...This may be my final post."
Revenge and Violence Is Neither Restorative or Moral
On the evening of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination Bobby Kennedy's passionate
address to a stunned crowd not only invoked the unspeakable pain from the act of premeditated hate, but the moral response to it:
...[M]y favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart,until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.
In the 1960s and 1970s the civil rights movement had a schism from the peaceful seeds planted by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King:
Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
Some like the violent Symbionese Liberation Army, Weather Underground, and Black Liberation Army (BLA) rejected Dr. King and sickeningly believed that bombings, assassinations, and kidnapping were morally justified as well as effective tools to implement an egalitarian society. The BLA alone, killed 13 officers coast to coast, and was even suspected of planting a bomb at a church service for a fallen officer. They killed two pairs of NYPD officers, including an African-American in the early 1970s. One BLA associate Assata Shakur, who was convicted of murdering a New Jersey State Trooper lives comfortably in Cuba, while paroled convicted cop killer Kathy Boudin happily teaches at Columbia University.
Like their failed predecessors, the violent political fringes today who burn, loot, and use tragedies and legitimate peaceful protests as a justification to assault and kill police officers are retrograde miscreants. These parasites, who use sincere heartache and calls for reform as vehicles to glorify and incite violence should be called out and condemned by everyone of good will, irrespective of politics. Make no mistake: no bomber, killer or arsonist is ever about dialogue.
Even before this horrendous bloody execution, assaults against police and refrains of "kill pigs" reverberated on the streets, on graffiti and on social media without enough condemnation. Not only have they drowned out those who nobly seek peaceful legal reforms, they have elevated anti-police stereotypes and calls for violenceinto a counterfeit, yet quasi acceptable socio-political currency. Property has been destroyed, people injured and now two more families mourn.
Humanitarian Ethos Often Ignored
Despite its flaws, a sometimes tense history and heated rhetoric, there is also a beautiful humanitarian ethos that pervades much of the NYPD. Over 70 law enforcement and 23 NYPD were killed in 9/11 rushing to save others. When I first entered the police academy our instructor Frank Breen, who himself lost an officer brother, taught about everything from art, to deliberation, to courage. He said courage was exemplified not by the movies, but by King Christian of Denmark who when Hitler asked for the Jews to be lined up with armbands was the first to show up.
When I was a young boy I would sometimes go with my grandfather Lothair, who for decades volunteered for the families of fallen officers to an evening of food and entertainment hosted by NYPD Honor Legion. I saw eloquent department chaplains of all faiths and big stars of the day volunteer like Stiller and Meara, Henny Youngman, Regis Philbin as well as talent from Broadway.
My father an American teenaged POW whose life was spared by his Nazi captors because he could do amateur surgery, wanted me to be a doctor so I could survive under any circumstance and help vulnerable people at times of chaos. At these functions I met a dashing young Lieutenant in dressed blues named Mike Scagnelli who for years lovingly doted over every child there. I asked my grandfather who the heck was this guy and what was he doing. My grandfather said he was a hero cop who was committed to the families of fallen officers, and that all his siblings were doctors. I knew from that day that I wanted to be like him and my other relatives who had been in the NYPD.
Forgiveness From Role Model
A year after I became a police officer in July 1986 Steven MacDonald, 29 was shot three times: in the head, throat, and spine. He almost died while questioning a young African-American teenager who was suspected of stealing a bicycle in Central Park. Steven survived, but as a quadriplegic hooked to a ventilator. His wife delivered a beautiful baby boy named Conor shortly thereafter and in 2010, he too joined the NYPD. Steven MacDonald was at the violent end of an interracial police-civilian encounter. However, while physically hobbled, Steven soared following his injury. Instead of falling into an intoxicated mindset of hate and vengeance, Steven publicly forgave his assailant disempowering those who would exploit his tragedy for hate.
The officer and his shooter spoke shortly before the young man was killed in a motorcycle accident, three days out of prison. During his recovery Steven was counseled by NYFD Chaplain Mychal Judge, who later died himself, while administering last rites at the World Trade Center on 9/11. The picture of his ash covered lifeless body being carried from the scene by two firefighters, a police officer and a civilian became an iconic photo of that tragedy.
More Helpers Please
When a police officer is assassinated, it is more than an individual harm. The vitality of a civilized society is be measured in both how we treat not only the weakest and most vulnerable, but also how we honor and protect those who safeguard us as well. That is what made Father Judge so very, very special to New Yorkers especially cops and firefighters. The son of Irish immigrants, his compassion radiated across the beautiful patchwork spectrum that was the city: firefighters, cops, alcoholics, victims, the homeless and gay youth.
The late Fred Rogers counseled:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world.
If there is a lesson to be learned from this tragedy, it is that we lost two genuine unsung helpers yesterday, one's that don't fit a negative media stereotype, when we are in desperate need of more contemplative helpers and maybe less impulsive talkers.
Brian Levin is a former NYPD officer