*Five days before Ismaaiyl Abdula Brinsley gunned down New York City police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, I received a memo and a preliminary report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. This is a national organization dedicated to tracking the number of officers killed in the line of duty, promoting awareness of the dangers to law enforcement and commemorating those slain in the line of duty. The chairman Craig W. Floyd sounded the alarm on the sharp increase in the number of law enforcement fatalities in 2014. There was cause for alarm. The number killed had jumped to 120 and this represented nearly a thirty percent increase over 2013. It reversed a trend of the past decade where the number of officers killed in the line of duty had decreased. The brutal murders of Liu and Ramos, along with a Tarpon Springs, Florida police officer less than a day after they were killed, shockingly upped that number.
Nearly every activist organization in the forefront of the protests over the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Ezell Ford as well as their family members instantly issued a strong condemnation of the killings and conveyed heartfelt sympathy for the slain officers and their families. The Brown and Garner family members went further and expressed outrage at the killer’s alleged Instagram rants that claimed he killed the officers in revenge for the Brown and Garner killings. They did not express condolences and denounce Brinsley to damp down the manic misguided and self-serving shout by some police groups and conservative talking heads that screamed that police violence protestors, Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama, and New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio had the officers blood on their hands for allegedly cheering on the Brown and Garner killing protests. Nothing they could say would head off the blame game from them.
There were two larger reasons why civil rights leaders and activists instantly condemned the killings. It was certainly the right thing to do because a murder whether of an officer or civilian is still a senseless and appalling act that must be denounced. The overwhelming majority of police officers are dedicated, conscientious public servants who genuinely are committed to protecting communities from crime and violence; black lives matter, but police lives matter too. There is the recognition that officers do face real dangers.
There also was the real fear that all it could take was the crazed act of one unhinged individual to derail the growing recognition on the part of a wide body of the public and many public officials that police violence is a major legal and public policy issue that cannot be ignored. The first steps were being taken toward opening a national dialogue between law enforcement officials, the Obama administration, the Justice Department, and many city and state officials on reforms that could be made to address the problem. They included the full authorization and use of body cameras, a grand jury system overhaul, the systematic tracking of the number of civilians killed by police officers, the appointment of independent investigators and prosecutors in officer involved shootings, and a revamp of policies and procedures on the use of and punishment of excessive force violations by officers. The real danger was that a nut act such as Brinsley’s could quickly wipe that progress off the board.
This wasn’t all. There’s the real fear that the killings could heighten tensions between police, many of whom are already edgy, and minority communities. The killings could harden the attitudes of some police officers, thicken the thin blue line into a siege mentality of us versus them. This could have deadly consequences on the streets and put even more civilians in harm’s way if police officers feel that their only recourse in a conflict situation, no matter how innocuous it may seem, is to resort to deadly force. This would escalate the vicious cycle of violence and more violence as the accepted way to handle police-civilian encounters.
At times when officers have been killed in the line of duty, some police officials have recognized that danger and quietly issued memos and directives reminding officers to uphold the highest professional standards in doing their job. This was crucial because the killing of a police officer always stirs anger, outrage and fear among many officers who instantly identify with and feel the pain of a slain officer. Floyd accurately captured that feeling when he noted that the rise in the number of officers killed in 2014 by gunfire is a reminder of the need to improve officer safety and wellness.
The best and most effective way to insure officer safety is still to strengthen proactive, positive police community dialogue, outreach and engagement. The Brown and Garner families and their supporters echoed that when they took great pains to repeat that the goal of protests was never anti-police but anti-police abuse. The two are not the same. This is why the deranged act of Brinsley was theirs and our worst nightmare.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.
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