On Saturday, a Baltimore native named Ismaaiyl Brinsley travelled to New York after having vowed to avenge the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by killing police officers. Armed with a gun in the mid-afternoon, Brinsley approached a squad car in Bedford-Stuyvesant and shot and killed officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos before they were able to draw their weapons — or possibly even be made aware of his presence. In wake of the killings, a public uproar has ensued. Given the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement sparking protests and similar action across the globe, many have expressed their outrage at the notion that the people…
On Saturday, a Baltimore native named Ismaaiyl Brinsley travelled to New York after having vowed to avenge the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by killing police officers. Armed with a gun in the mid-afternoon, Brinsley approached a squad car in Bedford-Stuyvesant and shot and killed officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos before they were able to draw their weapons — or possibly even be made aware of his presence.
In wake of the killings, a public uproar has ensued. Given the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement sparking protests and similar action across the globe, many have expressed their outrage at the notion that the people who are mobilizing in response to the deaths of Garner, Brown, and the countless other Black people whose lives were taken by law enforcement are not now taking to the streets to “demand justice” for Officers Liu and Ramos. The New York Police Department has even gone so far as to blame the movement for the deaths of the officers, with Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, stating that blood is on the hands of “Those that [sic] incited violence on the street under the guise of protests, that [sic] tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day”.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on a second.
First of all, Rest in Peace to the two officers who were killed on Saturday. The killings were a senseless misappropriation of a movement whose goals have perpetually sought to achieve justice in a peaceful way, as can be testified to by Eric Garner’s family members’ quick denouncement of the incident. For the families of the deceased and every person who lost a loved one on Saturday, I send my personal condolences — as I hope does anyone who identifies with the Black Lives Matter movement, who understands that our cause exists to urge America and the world moreover to deepen its commitment to respecting the universal value of human life.
But now there are people — news pundits, politicians, even friends of ours — who are unable to understand why the same people marching in protest of the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of law enforcement aren’t mobilizing in the same way for Liu and Ramos. They claim that the protesters don’t truly want justice if they do not seek it in the same way for everyone.
Consider the reasons for which mobilization in the Black Lives Matter movement has been a necessary endeavor — not just something people are doing to give police forces the middle finger. Protesters aren’t only angry that an unarmed Black person is killed by law enforcement every 28 hours in the USA. We are angry at the inconsistencies in policy that have facilitated this trend: that have allowed it to come into being in the first place. One such injustice is that when law enforcement personnel kill Black people, there is a systemic pattern of impunity. The non-indictments of Officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Panteleo are reminders that without an unrelenting pressure being forced on the legal institutions that protect the officers responsible for Black people’s deaths, there will never be reason for police to believe that they will be held accountable for the force they use. By contrast, it is literally inconceivable that Brinsley would not have been arrested, indicted and convicted for killing Officers Liu and Ramos had he not taken his own life shortly after the killing. We wouldn’t need to demand justice for the officers. History tells us without question that they would’ve gotten it.
Brinsley’s suicide brings us to another point: although still unconfirmed, there is a tower of evidence to suggest that Brinsley may have suffered from mental health issues leading up to that Saturday’s tragedy that were not adequately supported. Between his aggravated online rants, to having shot his girlfriend on the same day as he journeyed hundreds of miles alone with the sole purpose of killing police officers, to his instruction to two passers-by to “Watch what I’m going to do” just before killing the officers, there is significant grounds for speculation that Brinsley was emotionally maligned leading up to the incident.
This makes Lynch’s claim that the protesters who, in his words, have been on the streets attempting to “tear down what New York City officers did” are responsible for this tragedy grossly misguided. It is true that we have seen worrying instances of protesters (Whites included) co-opting anger to destroy property in Black neighborhoods in cities like Oakland, CA. However, no major branch of this movement has sought to use violence as a “first resort” option for change. To attribute the actions of one unstable individual who bastardized the goal of this movement to the movement itself is incorrect, and highly problematic – see claims that the existence of ISIS is proof that all Islamic people have the agenda of destroying the West for this kind of rhetoric in action.
“But then, isn’t it equally problematic to attribute the actions of Officers Wilson or Panteleo to the entire police force?”
Well, no. It’s not the same thing.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in failing to understand the language of the Black Lives Matter movement is in misconstruing calls for systematic action as calls against individuals. It is not the intention of the movement to claim that there are no good cops in the country, or that all cops should be treated as though there are none. It is the movement’s intention, however, to curtail the power of the state to support the police force and other public institutions in ways that contribute to the unsafety of Black communities on a daily basis. I can lament the deaths of Officers Liu and Ramos while simultaneously lamenting the existence of a legal system that allows people with their sort of power to disenfranchise and murder poor (and) communities of color.
Finally, it is worth reiterating once more that the deaths of Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos should be remembered as tragedies. The death of another human being should never have to become political before it has even had the chance to be personal, but for Black people across the United States, our mere survival is political. In light of the cases of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and every other late Black person who we are fortunate enough to even know the names of, it is now unequivocal that our only recourse against death is to make ourselves heard. The world is tuned in and listening. It is now essential that it resists the urge to change the station at the first sign of static.
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