The murders of two New York City police officers last weekend is a tragedy for everyone concerned, starting with the families of the men who were targeted as part of a disturbed man’s fevered revenge plot.
That appears to be what happened on Saturday when Officers Wenjian Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40, were shot while sitting in their patrol car. The gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, had a long history with police and suffered from mental issues.
That morning, he shot his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore, took her cellphone and boarded a bus for his native Brooklyn. He wanted to kill two police officers, apparently in retaliation for the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island.
After he carried out his horrendous plan – appropriately described as an “assassination” by Police Commissioner William Bratton – he shot himself dead when confronted by police.
It was a tragedy, but some critics – former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani among them – have made ludicrous and incendiary accusations, blaming President Obama for the deaths. It’s shameful and manipulative.
There may have been a link in Brinsley’s tortured brain between these murders and the police issues that are on millions of minds around the country, but there is no reason to believe it goes beyond that. Indeed, such comments only pollute the waters, complicating the task of sorting out facts from conjecture. Giuliani, of all people, should know better.
The shooting has also further poisoned relations between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police union, which objects – unreasonably – to the attention the mayor has given to those who are protesting Garner’s death and a grand jury’s decision not to indict police for it. Many critics – from across the political spectrum – believed the grand jury erred, and many saw Garner’s death as evidence of unequal treatment of African-American citizens by police.
The union apparently expected the mayor to pay no attention to critics of the police, and blacklisted him from police funerals. With Saturday’s tragic deaths, it has raised the temperature to the boiling point, saying there is blood on the hands of the mayor.
No one – no one in his right mind, anyway – believes that all cops are bad, and anyone with a lick of sense understands that they perform some of the most difficult and necessary tasks in all of government. But that’s why there are rules of conduct and why people pay attention.
If people today are questioning the actions of some police and the culture that guides some departments, it’s not coming out of the ether. It’s happening for a reason. That was a fact last week and it remains a fact today. It is essential for police and for the communities they serve to forge bonds of trust and respect, if they are not already present.
That’s the way forward and it’s one of the best ways to honor the service and the lives of Officers Liu and Ramos. Pretending that the issues that have arisen over the past few months don’t exist will only lead to more problems, and probably more tragedies. Let’s deal with them and the other issues, including mental illness, that were demonstrably at play in Brooklyn on Saturday.