In the wake of a series of deaths during confrontations with police officers that began making its current round of headlines over the summer, tensions between law enforcement and the public have shown little sign of subsiding. There is an atmosphere of intransigence on the part of protesters and police departments across the country, as New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio called on people to put aside their differences in remembrance of two officers killed in apparent retaliation Saturday, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. Judging by the temperament prevalent in protests from Oakland, Cali. to New York City, along with the events in Ferguson, Missouri, it may take substantive and prominent action before relative peace returns to American streets.
It appears that the man who slew the two police officers, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, shot both of them in the head as the sat in their patrol car and committed suicide a short time later. At the hospital where the bodies were taken, officers present as Mayor De Blasio passed on his way to a news conference turned their backs to the mayor in a literal display of protest. De Blasio had vocally supported public protests against the failure to indict in the slaying of Eric Garner this past summer, an act which spurred former New York Governor George Pataki to issue the mayor a scathing verbal indictment of his own.
Elsewhere over the weekend, a Native American man was shot and killed by police after allegedly charging an officer with a drawn knife. While a story on the website IndianCountryTodayMediaNetwork.com bore a highly editorialized headline to summarize the event, both the event and the characterization in the headline show that until resolution is had, interactions with police across the country are likely to carry greater tension than many people have witnessed in a generation or more.
Mayor De Blasio is effectively walking a tightrope to appear sympathetic to both of the angered groups, the public protesters and law enforcement. “It was an attack on every single New Yorker and we have to see it as such,” was a quote pulled by CNN from his public statement today. Whether his previous support for protesters realistically contributed to the murder of Officers Liu and Ramos Saturday remains a point of rhetorical contest between supporters and detractors.
A likely more deserving target of controversy is Al Sharpton, a long-time activist and Civil Rights Adviser to President Obama. A week ago, Sharpton lead a protest march in New York City, where protesters were heard chanting “What do we want? Dead cops! When do what them? Now!” Sharpton attempted to make space between himself and the murdered police officers with a post published to the New York Daily News website late Saturday. The contents of the post included the questionable statement that “We have even been criticized … for not allowing certain rhetoric/chants calling for violence.”
While the events leading to the current situation are nothing short of tragic on all sides, America is a country that protects speech, not murder. The irony of the previous statement lays in the perspective of its observer, and that is the core of the conflict.
By Brian Whittemore
Photo Courtesy of PBS NewsHour – Flickr License