When National Action Network (NAN) and I first responded to requests from Eric Garner's family and then to Michael Brown's family as they fought for justice and reform, we knew that there would be noise and resistance from right-wing forces and apologists for bad police. We knew that they would try to paint us as somehow anti-cop, when one of the original incorporators of NAN was a cop for 25 years (he's now the Brooklyn Borough President). In fact, the head of our Houston chapter is a police officer, there are cops in various NAN chapters, and we even have a law enforcement division. We knew right-wing pundits and those with long grudges (i.e. former Mayor Rudy Giuliani) would try and smear us with distortions and half-truths. But what we didn't know was that police would go to the funeral of an officer who served the community well while upholding the highest level of police standards, and use his tragedy to initiate a protest against a mayor by turning their backs when he spoke.
For the past five and a half months, many have denigrated those of us that protest as behaving somehow irresponsibly. What we see now are officers protesting in uniform -- some of them while on duty -- at a funeral for a fallen comrade. Talk about paradoxical. But let's move on. What exactly are they protesting?? They are protesting a mayor telling his Black son to be careful when dealing with police? They are protesting a mayor and his Black son having "the conversation"? Exactly how is that an unfair portrayal of police? Just look at the data -- they don't lie.
In 2011 alone, New Yorkers were stopped by police around 685,724 times -- 53 percent of those stopped were Black, and 34 percent were Latino. Only 9 percent were White. More than half of those stopped were aged 14-24. To act like the mayor's son, Dante, doesn't fall under the category of those who would be likely stopped by police during his youth is dishonest and simply ludicrous. Even last year, as the number of stop-and-frisks reduced, Blacks and Latinos accounted for more than 70 percent of stops across all precincts according to the NYCLU. Perhaps those who do not have a son or daughter of color can't imagine having "the conversation" with their child. But for those of us that do, and those who look at data that show how a practice like stop-and-frisk doesn't correlate to a reduction in crime, we know that having that discussion isn't only important, but it is necessary so that our children can come home safely at night. Instead of getting angry with a mayor, we must unite and get angry at the basis of this conversation.
This week, the movie Selma was released in select theaters (opens everywhere on Jan. 9). It's interesting that in this film, we are reminded how Dr. King (no one has reached his level of leadership since) had to deal with smear attacks and quarrels even within the civil rights movement. Every generation has to deal with the fact that leaders pushing for justice are going to be misunderstood and maligned by others, even by allies at times. The struggle is to keep focused on the issues at hand, and those issues include prosecutorial conduct as it relates to race-based police behavior. It also includes addressing federal judicial thresholds and reforming racial profiling by police. You can turn your back on the mayor, but you cannot turn your back on the reality of these challenges.
Those who want to prevent reform and stagnate progress would like to divide us and act as if there isn't overwhelming support for pushing for these changes. Nothing could be further from the truth. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 86 percent of Americans support requiring patrol officers in their areas to wear small video cameras while on duty. That's not 86 percent of minorities; it's 86 percent of all Americans. In addition, 87 percent said they support having independent prosecutors handle cases in which unarmed Americans are killed by police -- 87 percent.
I remember for years only a few of us said local prosecutors should not handle cases of civilian deaths at the hands of police, like the cases of Eric Garner and Michael Brown that we see today. Now an unprecedented number of Americans, an overwhelming majority at that, agree. That is a positive, hopeful sign. You can see it in the diversity among protesters and you can see it among those pushing for reform all across this country. America is not going backwards on these issues; we are going forward. And you ought to get in step with where we are headed as a nation together.
Smear if you will, turn your back if you must, but you cannot turn back the clock.