I have never been a fan of Al Sharpton. I look at him and see Tawana Brawley, the late eighties phoney rape case that Sharpton embraced in such an inflammatory way. I have always seen him as someone who has been eager to exploit racial issues to advance his own career. And that’s usually true. But, in the wake of Saturday’s slaying of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in Brooklyn, Sharpton got it right for once in his life.
His point: The names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and the very cause of social justice itself, should not be used to rationalize violence. Eric Garner’s mother and wife stood with Sharpton to stress the senselessness offor social justice action to be done peacefully, to redress grievances but tone down the rhetoric.
Those who tweet gleefully about the dead cops are an abomination. Even worse are the demonstrators who chant in unison “What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want it? Now.” Also reprehensible are politicians like Rudy Giuliani and former Governor George Pataki, who go on air to blame President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for stirring up violence with what they claim is anti-police rhetoric. This is patently false. And what are we to make of police union members who say it’s time to stand down from crime enforcement to teach the public what it would be missing.
That someone would kill two police officers just sitting in their squad car is an attack on the fabric of society no less than the shooting deaths of unarmed young black men. As a practical matter, beyond the moral outrage, such an attack is totally counterproductive. It inflames hostilities and undermines efforts to rectify racial injustice.
Police put their lives on the line every day, and every community needs even-handed law enforcement. Inner city communities, with more than their fair share of crime, need it all the more. The challenges facing police leadership are complex and daunting, written all over the face of NPC Commissioner Bill Bratton as he laid flowers at a makeshift memorial to the slain policemen.
Bratton and Boston Commissioner Bill Evans are tops in their field. Evans rightfully is saddened by the contrast between hostility toward police today and public support in Boston 20 months ago during the marathon bombings. Today he is urging his cops to wear their bullet-proof vests but seems reluctant to ratchet up police coverage without some new, specific threat. But clearly the atmosphere has changed.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is committed, along with Evans, to ongoing conversations with the community, keeping open lines of communication to build trust between the police and the policed. New York must improve its efforts on this front. With grievances past and present, there is no alternative if we are to reduce enmity in the future.
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