The assassination of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu is deeply troubling for us as a society. Homicides happens every day, far more often than we should be comfortable with, but we are especially shocked when the people who we pay to serve and protect us are gunned down while sitting in their car. They weren’t pursuing a criminal or intervening to stop someone from being a victim of violence. They weren’t in theory “in harm’s way” and yet they were still gunned down in cold blood.
I abhor the psychotic actions of Ismaaiyl Brinsley in the strongest terms. At times in the media furor over his threat to “put wings on pigs” it’s overlooked he shot his ex-girlfriend too, perhaps proving he was not nearly so discriminating in his desire for death – he just wanted to kill and then be killed either by his own hands or a “death by cop” suicide.
The spin goes further than ignoring his indiscriminately homicidal acts – our outrage over the deaths of these two public servants and family men (one even ordained as a lay chaplain) is being used as a tool to shift focus away from the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner to blaming their protesters for the death of these officers. It is a slap in the face to the families of these officers that they have become pawns in a political chess game – using honorable men as a way to obfuscate the truth about less honorable ones.
A recent visit by Lawrence Krisna Parker b/k/a KRS-One to The Ed Lover Show on Backspin crystallized this issue for me. Mr. Parker was talking to Ed about the song “Self-Destruction” and the Stop the Violence movement he was at the genesis of, and he said something I found surprising at first – the movement’s goal was never to stop ALL violence. In his view the movement was only to speak to those teetering on the brink of committing violent acts and remind them “There’s always another way to solve your problems.” He went on to note that while the individual person can make this choice, societies in fact NEED violence. His analogy was that the body feels pain as a warning something is wrong that needs to be fixed, and as a society violence has the same effect – it lets us know the body of society is ill and that something has to change.
If we apply that theorem to the news making events of 2014, the protesters to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are society’s antibodies, trying to fight the illness of officers who are trained to view young black men and women as a dangerous enemy – armed or unarmed. Blaming the protesters for the deaths of two police officers by claiming they’ve created “a toxic environment of hatred toward law enforcement” is like the flu blaming you for sneezing when you’re sick. Society itself is ill, and protests are the symptom, not the cause.
Rap artists have been warning the public that society is ill for 40 years, and not only have those warnings gone unheeded, they’ve actually been blamed for causing the problems. Rap music was social media long before Twitter. If four cops beat down an unarmed man in L.A., hip-hop made sure you heard about it in New York. When those same four officers were exonerated despite being caught on camera, hip-hop music and culture was accused of fermenting the violent riots that followed. Some things never change.
The people in the streets chanting “I CAN’T BREATHE” or “HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT” are not responsible for the deaths of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. One lone man with death and destruction was responsible for that, and the debate about what made him that way and led him to do what he did will go on forever in the media and the court of public opinion. If society is ill, if our system of law enforcement is ill, if we ourselves are ill then ignoring the symptoms of illness is at our own peril. Nobody likes making an appointment with the doctor, sitting in a waiting room for hours, being poked and prodded with lots of medical equipment – but if you value your life you do it. We as a society should value ALL life – Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Rafael Ramos, and Wenjian Liu. None of them should have died this year. It’s not the fault of the messenger for delivering the bad news that we all f#%!#d things up – so maybe instead of shooting the messenger we should heed the message and try to cure our ills.