We’ve been asked to privilege the lives of two dead officers over the 40-plus unarmed Black people killed by cops. And we are far from done grieving for them.
I realized I’d had enough of the blame game when I started fantasizing about snatching MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough through my TV screen and waterboarding him in a vat of facts soaked in hog maw juice.
Scarborough was just one of many smug-faced talking heads who spent last week blaming protesters, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and President Obama for the execution of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
Those are the buzzwords that Scarborough and others have used to describe the protesters’ expressions of grief and anger over a mounting pile of Black bodies slaughtered by police. And they’ve suggested that this Black and youth-led movement for reform in policing practices and prosecutorial mishandlings of brutality cases is causing the very problems it is working to solve.
NYPD police commissioner William J. Bratton said, “It is quite apparent, quite obvious, that the targeting of these two police officers was a direct spinoff of this issue of these demonstrations.”
Pat Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a police union, said the demonstrators “incited violence on the street, under the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day.”
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani recklessly blamed President Obama for fueling anti-police sentiment across the country. He told Fox News: “We’ve had four months of propaganda—starting with the president—that everybody should hate the police.”
And yet, members of the NYPD were flying a banner over the Hudson River bragging about their hatred and insubordination to their boss—New York City’s mayor—saying “De Blasio, Our Backs Have Turned To You.” Could Giuliani defend that?
And it’s hundreds of petulant men in blue who’ve been most disrespectful to the two dead cops, by using Officer Ramos’s funeral as an opportunity to grandstand, and make good on the banner’s promise, by turning their backs to De Blasio. All this, because they were angry over a comment the mayor made at a press conference in Staten Island, when he expressed his fear for his mixed-race teenage son, Dante. He said, “Because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face—we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.”
If not even these officers can mourn the loss of their own, how are we expected to? Because their actions underscore the increasingly militarized and racist culture that is at the root of these tragedies. And their grandstanding gesture strips it of any sense of humanity.
And why have these two police deaths become politicized, when others are not? Last June, we never heard a peep from the Las Vegas P.D. when two of their officers were killed by Jerad and Amanda Miller, a couple of White right-wing “patriots” with ties to Cliven Bundy’s anti-government movement, who covered the dead cops’ bodies with a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag and a note stating that “The revolution is coming …” It doesn’t get more explicitly political than that.
You know why.
I’ve had enough with the NYPD shenanigans, and the hypocrisy of media pundits and elected officials, shifting the blame onto peaceful protesters, and privileging the lives of the murdered officers above the lives of 40-plus unarmed Black people who, in 2014 alone, were killed by police under questionable circumstances. That’s right, more than 40 people:
Jordan Baker, D’Andre Berghardt, Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson, Rumain Brisbon, McKenzie Cochran, John Crawford III, Denzell Curnell, Michelle Cusseaux, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Dontre Hamilton, Jason Harrison, Darrien Hunt, Marquise Jones, Ernest Satterwhite, Yvette Smith, Tamir Rice, Cameron Tillman, VonDerrit Myers, Laquan McDonald, Quesean Whitten, Miguel Benton, Dillon McGee, Levi Weaver, Karen Cifuentes, Sergio Ramos, Roshad McIntosh, Diana Showman, Victor White III, Levar Jones, Vernicia Woodard, Brian Dennison, Armand Bennett, Jeremy Lake, Kajieme Powell, Dante Parker, Brandon Tate, Tyree Woodson.
Why do the talking heads criticize athletes for their show of support for victims of police brutality, but don’t call out the nasty, hateful, racist rhetoric and actions from police officers?
And why do politicians like De Blasio and Brooklyn Borough president Eric L. Adams, and pundits ask protesters to stand down in silence and join in with grieving police officers, when these tools of the State kept their fingers on the trigger all summer long, killing 14 black teenagers as we awaited the Ferguson grand jury decision in the Mike Brown murder. They want protesters to pause the movement even though in the past few weeks we’ve been told that the officers who killed Dontre Hamilton, John Crawford III, Akai Gurley, and Rumain Brisbon have not or will not be indicted. An investigation is still ongoing in the case of Victor White III, who allegedly shot himself in the chest while his hands were cuffed behind his back as he sat in a squad car.
Why do the pundits ignore or gloss over the continued non-indictments of the officers murdering unarmed Black men and the repeated reminders that the justice system is driven by a double standard that blatantly devalues Black lives and denies any form of relief or sanctuary to the family members and communities left grieving these tragedies.
What about the lying “Witness number 40” in the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, and the audacity of prosecutor Bob McCulloch who admittedly knew she was lying but still allowed her to testify?
“The symbolism of not protesting now, and then resuming after the police officers have been laid to rest, and that sense of respect for those individuals who protect our communities is extremely important,” said Black Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY).
These requests don’t promote respect, healing, or progress. They merely elevate some murders above others. And the deck always seems to be stacked in elevating White over Black, officer over civilian, powerful over powerless.
Which is to say, none of the 40-plus black victims killed this year were extended the same courtesy of being buried with respect. And people of color have to keep justifying our right to speak and saying over and over again to the indignant State—that mocks and blames us for our own murders—that our lives matter.
And yet, Eric Garner’s daughter Emerald Garner visited the slain NYPD officers’ makeshift memorial to pay her respects. She called the officers’ deaths the tragic result of “a mental health crisis … something that [Ismaayil Brinsley, who fatally shot the two cops, after shooting his ex-girlfriend] was dealing with personally [without] the proper way to express his anger,” she said.
Empathy is something none of the cops or media pundits have demonstrated when it came to the killing of her father and the other victims of police brutality. We have every reason to be enraged, and we’re still working overtime to be human and reasonable.
The hostile hypocrisy of Scarborough and his ilk is mind-boggling. The same people who criticize athletes for wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts and members of Congress for walking out and holding up their hands in silent protest, say nothing about the cops in Ferguson who wore “I Am Darren Wilson” bracelets and T-shirts. They say nothing about the hateful, racist, inflammatory rhetoric about Eric Garner on police forums, justifying his murder.
They say nothing about the police officers that showed up at a pro-cop rally in New York City wearing “I Can Breathe” T-shirts and egging on protesters. They say nothing of the racist cop who took to social media to say that ending slavery was a bad move and that Blacks should be exterminated.
They say nothing about the recent incident in the Glendale, California, Elks Lodge where lodge member Gary Fishell, changed the lyrics of the song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” to mock Michael Brown’s death to an audience that included several current and retired cops:
Michael Brown learned a lesson about a messin’
With a badass policeman
And he’s bad, bad Michael Brown
Baddest thug in the whole damn town
Badder than old King Kong
Meaner than a junkyard dog
Two men took to fightin’
And Michael punched in through the door
And Michael looked like some old Swiss cheese
His brain was splattered on the floor
And he’s dead, dead Michael Brown
Deadest man in the whole damn town
His whole life’s long gone
Deader than a roadkill dog
Or the fact that Brown’s body baked in the street for four and a half hours after his murder. Talk about dying without sanctuary.
It’s this double standard that illustrates the audacity and pernicious contradictions of White supremacy, and leaves me unable to feel anything but numb at the police murders. Not because I am a cold, unfeeling person or that I condone killing police officers, but because of the disrespect in the request to “Stop the protests so we can bury our fallen heroes in peace.” Because of the seeming conspiracy to elevate #BlueLives over #BlackLives, #AllLives over #BlackLives, consigning us to the bottom of everybody’s heap.
There was a moment of silence at City Hall and New York City landmarks dimmed their lights to honor the slain officers. A makeshift memorial in Bed-Stuy has been flooded with flowers and visitors. Vice-President Joe Biden spoke at officer Ramos’s funeral, and JetBlue Airlines offered to fly up to two members from each police department in the country to attend the funerals of both officers. The Yankees Foundation and Bowdoin College have offered to cover the education costs of Officer Ramos’s son. A 9/11 Foundation announced that it will assume the mortgage payments of the two officers.
As I think about these noble gestures, I can’t shake the cries of Eric Garner’s widow from my head.
When asked whether she would accept the apology of the officer who choked her husband to death in broad daylight, she said: “No, I don’t accept his apology. No, I could care less about his condolences. He’s still working. He’s still getting a paycheck. He’s still feeding his kids, when my husband is six feet under and I’m looking for a way to feed my kids now.”
As I watch loops on MSNBC and CNN replaying cops showing up in the rain and laying down flowers in Brooklyn for the officers, I can’t help but recall how cops in Ferguson ran over a street memorial dedicated to slain teenager Mike Brown. One officer reportedly let a dog pee on the flowers, and eventually the memorial of teddy bears and homemade signs was mysteriously destroyed by fire. An officer was suspended a few days ago for calling the memorial “a piece of trash.”
While no one has perused Ramos’s or Liu’s social media accounts for inappropriate pictures, or asked whether either of the officers had brutality complaints against them from residents, I can’t forget how the tag was still on Tamir Rice’s toe when his parents’ criminal records were splashed across the news. I can’t forget how Eric Garner was being called a fat criminal less than 24 hours after his body was brought to the morgue.
This double standard is why thousands of NYC protesters defied Mayor de Blasio’s order to halt protests until the police officers had been buried. Growing numbers of people from all racial backgrounds refuse to go along with the devaluation of the lives of the slain civilians and the sickening disrespect shown in the aftermath.
Isn’t it interesting that those blaming the protesters for the police officers’ murders conveniently overlooked the fact that the Baltimore Police Department took their time notifying their NYPD that Brinsley, who was making his way to New York, after shooting his ex-girlfriend in Maryland, leaving a trail of clues along the way about the damage he had planned to do.
We listened to public officials calling the cop killings “assassinations,” and “barbaric executions” that were “an attack on us all,” and an affront to our “democratic principles.” But we cannot forget how so many adults across this country used those same tongues to debate whether slaughtered Black children deserved to die, and had brought their sorry fates upon themselves by their disobedience.
Intellectually and morally, I don’t believe that officers Ramos and Liu deserved to die. But like many others, I can’t summon an emotional response. I can’t assign their lives and deaths more value than the growing pile of bodies felled by police.
And the pattern we see is that after each killing, authorities and talking heads twist the narrative to say that these victims were responsible for their own murders. Then the grieving families were criminalized and demonized so that the narrative became that their loved ones deserved to die.
With variations on this tragic theme taking place on a near-weekly basis across the country, the weight of collective grief and rage is destroying our faith in the justice system.
So forgive me for feeling numb about the murders of officers Ramos and Liu in the presence of this heap of black bodies, the caskets, the tears and wails of parents, widows and children, the empty seats at the holiday table, the disregard for our lives, the mockery by police, politicians and pundits, and this incessant war on our communities.
The State has been clear: It does not grieve for the lost lives of innocent people of color. So why should I extend that courtesy to those who are empowered to defend and benefit from an oppressive system designed to destroy me, and those who look like me? I am fully aware that White supremacy requires Black death and that it may come for me one day while I’m going about my business.
It isn’t an act of violence or disrespect not to be more emotionally invested in the murders of police officers than unarmed Black people. This isn’t about the “karma” and “revenge” that some said were at play in the NYPD officers’ murders. It is a reaction to the nonstop attacks against us, and the continuing fight for justice and equality in the face of the genocidal potential of a racist nation that has declared war on people of color. And this is why I’m spending my emotional labor on mourning the 40-plus and rising.
Stacey Patton is this week’s guest columnist for “What’s Going On.”
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