ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL SHIREY
It is a poignant irony that a long-simmering debate framed in the public mind as pitting white cops against black New Yorkers was brought to a boil by the cold-blooded execution of two officers of color — one Latino, the other Asian-American.
Black lives matter, as protesters have said over and over since grand juries declined to return indictments in the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island. Blue lives matter, as NPYD supporters began saying even before the heinous murders of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. All lives matter, it turns out. In the nation’s largest and most diverse city, we have to learn to live together with a modicum of respect for each other and our differences.
It’s an easy call for me to say that Pat Lynch, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president, disgraced his uniform in his incendiary charge that Mayor Bill de Blasio has “blood on [his] hands.” I can only shake my head to see former Governor George Pataki blame the officers’ deaths on “the divisive anti-cop rhetoric” of the mayor and Attorney General Eric Holder. And it’s embarrassing to see a gay business, Boxers Bar, tweeting hate messages about de Blasio turning his “disgusting mouth into political gain using cops death” and telling Al Sharpton “there is not a place in hell dark enough for you… Please may your fate find you.”
But as I shudder at these outbursts, I can’t help but acknowledge that signs held up by some protesters in recent weeks equating the NYPD with the KKK are also unacceptable. Or that demonstrators exploiting a chaotic scene on the Brooklyn Bridge to hurl a garbage can from the walkway down onto a traffic lane or to start slugging police officers are dead wrong.
I won’t, however, fall into a false equivalency that says outrageous conduct by fringe elements among the protesters is the same as ugly provocation from the head of the police union or a former governor.
The Eric Garner case raised issues this city must address. It’s not about all cops being racists or being bad actors. Instead, it’s about insufficient training, lack of consequences for bad behavior, and relationships between the police and district attorneys that are too cozy. Systemic law enforcement changes are needed. As is cultural change, not just among police but from all of us.
It is not okay for those angry at the world to use legitimate protests as a venue to vent violent rage. But’s it precious of Lynch and Pataki to act like the mayor did anything but what a father should when warning Dante to keep his cool in encounters with police. Any honest person will concede that race, ethnicity, class, gender, or sexual orientation can all too easily become a tragic flashpoint in tense confrontations between police and the public.
So we all need to honor the grief among New York police officers, we need to carry out protests in ways aimed at winning hearts and minds rather than scoring points, and our leaders urgently need to bring this debate indoors. For real. Another month or year or decade of everyone being self-satisfied in their outrage will accomplish nothing. Not one young person will be safer. Not one more police officer will return home at the end of their shift. Not one more holiday will be full of joy.