On Saturday, I watched a cop get out of his car, looking like he was going to smash in the window of a car that was not getting out of their way at an intersection: the driver either didn't know what to do, or simply refused. The officer was angry, the sort of angry that is unique to New Yorkers who are in a hurry to an emergency and being delayed. I didn't know it at the time, but he was rushing to an incident that shifted the dynamics of the ongoing debate about police accountability in the US, and the reaction on the right has been no less than breathtakingly shameless.
As a resident of Bedford Stuyvesan, Brooklyn, I was taken aback when I found out the sirens were the response to two police being shot just a few blocks from my home. Within moments, however, the initial shock yielded to the realization that, in context, this action was much larger than even the news of two murdered police officers.
After being at the NYCMillionMarch (amongst others) and knowing officers in the NYPD, it's not difficult to see that the tensions are spilling over into the street on both ends, and that there is currently no graceful off-ramp: not for the communities who are scared of the police, nor for the cops, who are now scared of the communities they police. At this point, if the Feds aren't willing to step in, they can expect an already-bad situation to deteriorate.
Before Saturday, recent events had shown that, much like back in the 60's, local authorities are completely incapable of policing themselves; the only exception I know of being perhaps in Wisconsin, where Gov. Walker signed a law that requires investigations of police to be handled outside of their department. While Gov. Cuomo had an opportunity to do something similar or appoint a special prosecutor to handle police abuses, he caved in to police union pressure and refused to take them on. The lack of accountability, combined with the increasing militarization of police, has led to violent incidents and fueled the anger and resentment at police we see today.
This resentment, however, has not stopped the NYC community from feeling sympathy for the families of those killed by a mentally unstable person. While it is impossible to speculate with much certainty what a sick mind will do in hypothetical circumstances or what the killer's motive was so soon after the shooting, that hasn't stopped the NYPD's mafia-esque union boss, Pat Lynch, from saying that Mayor De Blasio and protestors have blood on their hands: "There's blood on many hands tonight... That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the Office of the Mayor." It's shameful how quick he was to exploit the deaths of his fellow officers for a political cheap shot; reminds me of the way Dick Cheney talks about 9/11 when defending torture programs.
Former Mayor Giuliani went even further: "We've had four months of propaganda, starting with the President, that everybody should hate the police," he said, amongst other statements to similar effect. He's one of those people feeding the delusion that the police can do no wrong, something many Americans still believe, especially with Hannity reading the debunked testimony of a racist witness with a history of fabrication on important policing issues as though it were gospel.
Obama, as the first biracial president, meanwhile, has had so much restraint I don't feel I even have to analyze Giuliani's presidential propaganda charge: he's just a shameless political hack throwing as much red meat to his Fox News audience as he can while he's still even marginally relevant nationally, something he hasn't been since he shamelessly leveraged 9/11 as much as possible to fuel his unsuccessful primary campaign before being beaten by McCain.
Now let's be clear: NYPD union boss Lynch is a hyperbolic jerk with little honesty and no sense of propriety, as are many on his side of this debate, but the NYPD did suffer a terrible loss at the hands of a disturbed mind. This loss, while tragic and senseless, doesn't change anything that happened in Ferguson or Staten Island, however. Nor did it change the fact that the police can seemingly still act with impunity and not be punished unless it was clearly abuse that ended in an unnecessary killing, happened on video AND trends on Twitter.
The communities that have been harmed by aggressive policing will not be satisfied, and trust in the police will not be restored, until the processes to hold police accountable within the criminal justice system are reformed; even if the Feds throw the book at the officer who killed Garner, making an example of this one officer in a broken system simply won't be enough, and would be brushed aside as little more than a pleasant symbol. While a bit of a ceasefire has been established with protestors as police mourn, it won't last, no matter how much Fox News-esque outrage is directed at protestors.
Today, the sides are pretty starkly drawn: on one side, the chants of "NYPD KKK, how many kids did you kill today" aren't really helping. On the other, Lynch's victim complex began before there was an actual victimization, and there is no end to the grandstanders like Giuliani on Fox News who, despite dropping crime statistics, are willing to scare the crap out of my suburban grandparents, who are removed from the debate and already outright scared of black people.
Both sides now have reason to be angry and scared now that the fear is creeping into the NYPD, and the rightful outrage that they feel could be misdirected towards a demonstrator at the next march as police cohesion strengthens in the short term around this tragedy. Tensions will run higher, and a police crackdown would only be met with more demonstrations. There would likely be more people with smartphones getting more aggressive when they see an arrest; more frequent instances of resisting arrest; less cooperation from community stakeholders the police need to solve crimes: basically, there is only one way out of this escalation, and it's for the federal government to take responsibility. If that doesn't happen, I really don't see how things could improve in the near future.