We face a critical breach in our nation between law enforcement and the public. This is illustrated today most deeply in New York City but travels the nation all the way to Portland, Oregon - and from north to south - and many of the same issues exist.
In New York City, since protests began over the treatment of African-Americans caught up in the criminal justice system, the police union there has done everything possible to inflame tensions and undermine civil authority.
It is generally a good assumption that any attack on a public servant is an attack on all of us. That was certainly the case when NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot dead by an assailant who earlier shot his ex-girlfriend, Shaneka Thompson. Liu and Ramos represented the diversity and promise of America. Ismaaiyl Brinsley claimed to be killing in revenge for police misconduct. Reform proponents of America's dysfunctional criminal justice system, in Ferguson and other cities, have argued during mostly non-violent demonstrations for legislative changes and court remedies. Violence has no place in this movement.
Sadly, NYPD Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch laid blame for the deaths of Liu and Ramos on not just their killer but directly on NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has supported reform, and other conservative voices on Sunday televisions programs have indicted President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for the deaths of these officers- along with clergy and non-violent protesters seeking to build a better America. This has been reckless rhetoric.
The New York Times editorial board was correct when they recently said: "that cops are (are acting like) an ethically impeccable force with their own priorities and codes of behavior, accountable only to themselves, and whose reflexive defiance in the face of valid criticism is somehow normal."
This attitude that law enforcement is above the law is reminiscent of when many rural county sheriffs around the nation proclaimed the U.S. Constitutional did not apply to them and therefore they would not enforce any gun enforcement measures passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by the President of the United States.
The system as it stands is broken. We treat African-Americans differently in the criminal justice system then we do whites. Women are targets of domestic violence in a society that allows such violence to occur often with impunity. People that never should have had access to guns because they are so easy to obtain in the NRA's America can shoot down cops.
African-American clergy, in an open letter to the people of the United States, wrote recently:
We are...calling on clergy of all ethnicities and faith traditions to join us in leading our nation toward healing and reconciliation. We are asking you to join us in finding more than symbolic ways to address this issue that has plagued our nation since its inception. We are asking you to join us in appealing to your elected officials, opening your doors to protestors, holding community forums that encourage dialogue and communication between the community and law enforcement and/or doing the work in your individual houses of worship and communities that will ultimately bring about restorative justice.
Right now we need to be about the building of a stronger America where the structural injustices of race are addressed and the hard work of reconciliation is engaged. There is too much violence. There is too much hatred. Our obligation is to build a better America. The deaths of Liu and Ramos will just be two more meaningless murders otherwise. To that end, police unions need to submit to civil authority and recognize we all have a role in addressing difficult issues of injustice. No one gets special privilege. Police unions should see communities of faith as places were the work of healing and justice can begin.
Turing their backs on the mayor again at the Sunday memorial of Officer Liu shows us that many NYPD members see themselves not as servants of the law but as the law. This does not leave us in a hopeful place.