Protesters Should Keep Protesting

December 22, 2014 | Bucky Turco

After a senseless tragedy led to the death of two cops this weekend, Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked New Yorkers to “put aside political debates, put aside protests, put aside everything we will talk about in due time while two families try to piece their lives back together.” It was a sudden shift in de Blasio’s previous rhetoric, which encouraged peaceful protests for Eric Garner by saying, “all these things are happening right now because the people demanded it. Keep demanding it.”

In a city as modern as New York, it’s always fascinating to watch how quickly pundits and politicians are willing to toss away stats and figures for the sake of gut feelings and emotion. Sadly, the loudest voice in the room tends to win, even if it’s the craziest.

Yes, two police officers were killed in broad daylight by a man who is believed to have had a mental illness and that’s a horrible, horrible tragedy. But it’s not symptomatic of a larger systemic issue. It’s a rare occurrence. The last time a cop was killed in the line of duty was 2011. The last time two partners were killed was in 2007, when two auxiliary officers were shot. Before that, it was 2004. In fact, according to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, “seven times since 1972 we have seen partners murdered together.”

This senseless act does not negate all the wrongs the NYPD has systemically committed against people of color recently or over the past few decades. In November, Akai Gurley was shot and killed by a rookie cop. Three months before that, Garner, a father of six, was put in a prohibited chokehold and died. Although the incident was captured on film, a grand jury didn’t indict Officer Pantaleo. Let’s not also forget about Carlos Alcis and Kimani Gray,16, in 2013, or Reynaldo Cuevas, Shantell Davis, and Tamon Robinson in 2012, among others like Ramarley Graham, the unarmed 18-year-old who was shot in his own home after cops kicked down the door.

In 2013, 7 people were killed by the NYPD; in 2012 the count was 16; in 2011 it was 9; in 2010 it was 8. With numbers so consistently high, we know these aren’t isolated incidents. Then of course the are the dozens of other cases of police brutality — the various beatings — caught on video, such as this, this, this, this, this, this, and this, all of which are fron 2014 alone. Just last week, a plainclothes officer was suspended after footage emerged of him punching a teen suspect in the body. The Daily Kos reports that American police kill one person a day like clockwork.

The problem is that De Blasio’s ask conflates the issues: There’s no evidence that the mostly peaceful protests contributed in any way to the slaying of Officers Ramos and Liu. Police still don’t know what the motivation behind the crime was. That’s why Mayor De Blasio has no business telling protesters to stop exercising their First Amendment rights while these cops are mourned. The deaths are tragic, but that shouldn’t cancel out or end all the positive momentum this largely peaceful movement has been steadily building. While I understand that the mayor has put himself in a very tough position by being so upfront about the concerns he has as the father a bi-racial son and how this truth is framed as some sort of afront to the NYPD, it’s no excuse to scapegoat the protesters no matter how much he now has to kowtow to rank-and-file police officers.

Even NY1, a relatively neutral news channel and a hometown favorite, is postulating whether or not the recent marches have fostered an atmosphere of anti-police rhetoric. Newsflash: The marches are NOT anti-police. They’re anti-police injustice and police brutality. Yes, there was one viral video of a small band of people chanting “We want dead cops!” but the leading chants throughout the movement in New York for two weeks have been, “I can’t breathe,” “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” and “Black Lives Matter!”

Instead of asking protesters to stop demanding justice, de Blasio should find a way to encourage them to work with police. On Sunday night, for example, Justice League NYC continued with its Sunday night protest for Eric Garner, but included a message or justice and peace relating to cops as well. Carmen Perez, co-founder of Justice League NYC, told the New York Times, “It’s not mutually exclusive. We can mourn Eric Garner and the two officers. It’s O.K. to do that.”

A coalition of grassroots groups — including Black Lives Matter, Ferguson Action, and Hands Up United — that have been organizing the protests are not happy about the mayor’s request. In a press release, they wrote, in part:

“We renew our condolences to the families and friends of those injured and killed this weekend. As those who stand with the victims of police violence, we know all too well the deep sense of loss that a community feels when they lose a loved one. They are in our thoughts and prayers as we continue our movement for justice.

“This is not a time for political grandstanding and punditry. Unfortunately, we continue to see elected officials and police leadership twist this tragedy into an opportunity for them to silence the cries for justice from families who have lost their loved ones to police violence. Our families matter, too.

“Those exercising their First Amendment rights to secure a justice system that works for ALL are being thrown under the bus by police departments and their union leaders who want to skirt their responsibility to our communities.

Earlier today, Eric Garner’s daughter Emerald visited the makeshift memorial in Bed-Stuy for the two slain officers to show her respects. “I just had to come out and let their family know that we stand with them, and I’m going to send my prayers and condolences to all the families who are suffering through this tragedy,” she said to ABC News. “I don’t feel conflicted because I was never anti-police. Like I said before, I have family that’s in the NYPD that I’ve grown up around, family reunions and everything so my family you know, we’re not anti-police.”

(Photo: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)