Cops Shot — Who’s to Blame?
Twenty-five years ago I moved from the Upper West Side to Park Slope, then a marginal neighborhood in a marginal borough. Crime of course was a grim feature of Manhattan life then, but it was worse in Brooklyn. Often, when I stepped into a taxi after an evening in the city, the driver would take his hands off the steering wheel, refusing the fare to my new home, saying it was too dangerous. It was.
In my first few years in Park Slope, I and my friends were mugged or purse-snatched, frequently at gunpoint. My car radio was stolen, then my car. On the night my wife went into labor, they burglarized our home. They stole her wedding ring. They stole our garbage cans. They stole the flower boxes from our window ledges. And, as a final ignominy—like the Grinch who “even took the last can of Who hash”—they stole the lightbulb from our stoop lamp.
In the midst of the so-called crack epidemic that then engulfed the city, and the atmosphere of criminal free-for-all that then prevailed, we told our police department: “Fix this.” And, remarkably, they did. Were it not for the police, New York City today would undoubtedly still be mired in the dystopian nightmare that it very nearly became. Instead, over the following twenty years crime rates for serious felonies declined beyond imagination, and eventually Brooklyn became not merely safe but thriving as an international trademark for everything trendy, cool, or hip. Better still, I can always get cab from Manhattan.
Now that the police have returned our city to us, we’ve turned our back on them. We are embarrassed by what they’ve done in our name to reclaim our streets. Or rather we are embarrassed by what we’ve asked them to do.
When we asked them to get rid of the bad guys, we knew who the bad guys were. Twenty-five years ago, the bad guys were the ones in the newspaper “wilding” in Central Park; they were the ones with giant radios who took over subway cars; they were the ones glaring at us from TV screens in rap videos. They were, in other words, young black men.
So when the police went to work, we knew where they were going and we didn’t mind. Sure, it was profiling, but we didn’t call it profiling then, or think anything was wrong with it. When police resources poured into rough neighborhoods and housing projects, we didn’t complain. When young black man were stopped and frisked on the streets, oftentimes for specious reasons, we didn’t complain. When the same young men were arrested and incarcerated in alarming numbers, again we didn’t complain. We applauded. They were the bad guys after all. They asked for it, and now they got it.
In fact some of those who applauded loudest lived in those same neighborhoods and projects where these young men lived, for it was in those neighborhoods where the effect of active, “broken windows” policing was most strongly felt. It was in those neighborhoods where the sons of those applauding mothers were being killed nightly by the young black men whom the police were carting away.
Today in the placid safety they’ve given us, we can afford the luxury of holding the police to accounts for what we’ve asked them to do. Today, with my home in Park Slope worth ten times what I paid for it, many of us—smug with earned equity, drinking fair trade macchiatos in erstwhile shooting galleries, walking along avenues once strung with yellow crime scene tape—enjoy carrying signs, singing “We Shall Overcome,” and protesting white, racist, killer cops.
It makes us feel good to give the middle finger to these White-Racist-Killer Cops. It makes us feel like it is 1968, which most of us missed, and that we’re making a stand for civil rights or whatever. Few of us have ever actually spoken to a White-Racist-Killer Cop, but we know they’re out there because we see them on television. They infuriate us because they murder unarmed black men for no reason. (“They choked him to death for selling cigarettes!”) They do it all the time, and they always get away with it because prosecutors are racists too, and grand juries (whatever they are), and judges, and the whole system is racist, and because they’re racist we’re angry and because we’re angry we protest, and loot appliance stores owned by Chinese immigrants, and burn someone’s car that’s parked nearby, and eventually we shoot a couple White-Racist-Killer cops in the head as they eat lunch in their patrol car on a Brooklyn street.
Who cares that the two White-Racist-Killer cops we shot were neither killers, nor racists, nor even white? They were cops, and that is reason enough to die for doing what we asked them to do.
Patrick Lynch, the head of the city’s police union, said the blood trail from Officers Ramos and Liu starts at Mayor De Blasio, which is true enough insofar as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough. We are all to blame.