By Saeed Shabazz -Staff Writer-
‘We won’t be intimidated’
Some say tragic police shooting and police anger must not derail movement for change
NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for a cessation of “anti-police protests” and “rhetoric” Dec. 22 until two New York City police officers killed by a lone gunman were able to be laid to rest.
While many expressed condolences for the deaths of the officers, they were not necessarily willing to forego protests.
Officials continued to investigate the Dec. 20 killing of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos at Final Call presstime. Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, allegedly shot his ex-girlfriend in Maryland hours prior to traveling to New York, shooting the officers in Brooklyn and running into a subway station and killing himself. It appears as if he used the social media site Instagram to spout anger regarding the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and threaten police officers.
Mr. Brinsley allegedly wrote on Instagram: “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let’s take 2 of theirs.” Police said he used the hashtags #Shootthepolice #RIPErivGardner (sic) #RIPMikeBrown.
Police say the alleged mentally ill shooter spoke to people in the area before he allegedly took “a shooter’s stance” and fired into the passenger side of the marked police vehicle. Police have obtained videos from the scene, but none show the actual shooting.
His mother, who told media sources she hadn’t seen her son for a month, said he had mental health problems. She was also afraid of him, according to media reports. The reported shooter also had an extensive arrest record and watched and recorded part of a protest in New York, officials said.
Mayor de Blasio, who has been under fire from police unions and conservative commentators for comments perceived as siding with protesters, offered up his remarks during a Police Athletic League luncheon televised across the nation. He spoke again at a Dec. 22 press conference, where he urged calm and rejected blaming protests around police reform and accountability for the shootings. Activists who spoke to The Final Call said marches, protests and demonstrations would continue.
The man who shot two NYPD officers cannot be used to delegitimize a protest movement that has not called for violence, they argued. If that is the case, how many brutal, unpunished police officers does it take to delegitimize the entire law enforcement system? they asked.
“If this is (the mayor’s) call, our call should be, ‘We will stop the protests once we have a police department that is under community control,’ ” said veteran activist and political commentator Rosa Clemente.
*Immediately following the shooting, as reports began to circulate in the media, Ms. Clemente took to her Facebook account to post a warning to youth in New York. She like many believes a heavy-handed response from the NYPD is not only possible, but likely.
“I am asking all the ancestors to protect every organizer, activist and social justice fighter in NYC. The state is at war with us. The police are militarized and out for blood even when they know the perpetrator they will take out their anger on Black and Brown people …
As they protect their own, we must protect our own. Please stay safe, stay secure, stay together, stay tight, protect each other. Hard times ahead,” she continued. “These times set apart the people who are committed to the struggle for life with all its highs and lows vs. those who are celebrity media hashtag ‘activists.’ ”
Some are concerned about NYPD declaring police are in a state of war, Who is the enemy? they ask.
In Washington D.C., activist Erika Totten told The Final Call when White supremacists, or militia members shoot police officers, all Whites are aren’t forced by police to apologize or separate their actions from those who have killed police.
Heated rhetoric from police leaders, including the head of the police union and early remarks by Commissioner William Bratton, reveal police are looking for any excuse to increase surveillance and clamp down on protesters exercising their rights to free speech and assembly.
The police killings have “nothing to do with the movement, I think ultimately it is a false flag that could potentially be used to incite more violence and more police brutality against us so that it can be looked at as justified,” said Ms. Totten. “They’re already killing us every 28 hours,” she added. According to a report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, every 28 hours a Black person is killed by a police officer, security, or vigilante in the United States.
If activists halt protests, it implies Mr. Brinsley was involved in the movement. If they don’t stop protests, they are headed for a confrontation with law enforcement, so organizers find themselves in a difficult position. There are those who desire to spin the narrative to paint activists and demonstrators as the violent offenders to justify harming them.
Ms. Totten has already received death threats and so have many others in the #BlackLivesMatter movement–though they have not called for the death of anyone.
“We know in the movement that that is not something that we called for, and now Black people have to apologize for one person killing two police officers, but we don’t call on all White people to apologize when a White person kills Black people,” said Ms. Totten.
Instead of hiding and not protesting, she feels anyone not active in the movement should get involved.
“Join the movement, get trained and get prepared, never go anywhere by yourself, and make sure that your movements are tracked by the people who know you,” said Ms. Totten.
The slayings came at a tense time: Police in New York and nationwide were being criticized for their tactics following the July death of Mr. Garner, who was stopped on alleged suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Amateur video captured an officer wrapping his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck and wrestling him to the ground. Mr. Garner was heard gasping, “I can’t breathe” before he lost consciousness and later died.
Demonstrators around the country have staged die-ins, lying in streets, and other protests since a grand jury decided Dec. 3 not to indict an NYPD officer in Mr. Garner’s death, a decision that closely followed a Missouri grand jury’s refusal to indict a White officer in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black 18-year-old, in August.
The decision not to indict officers responsible for the deaths has led to widespread outrage along with sympathy and shows of solidarity worldwide.
Allegations that the NYPD police shooter was somehow moved to action by protesters and rhetoric by members of the #BlackLivesMatter movement have come from the most vocal members of the NYPD and right wing media commentators.
“In my research I found that in 2013, 113 officers were killed in the United States in the line of duty. That is clearly disproportionate to the numbers of brutality and murders of Black and Brown people,” Dr. Ray Winbush of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University explained to The Final Call. “We are seeing the end of the so-called ‘post racial era’ and we now enter the ‘post-racist era’; with Ferguson as the spark–as was Selma, Alabama and Money, Miss., [where Emmett Till died in 1955],” he added.
“The question is do we have the right to call out the system of police murder?” asked Carl Dix, national spokesman for the Revolutionary Communist Party. “We have come up with the theme ‘No New Year Under This Same Old System. We Can’t Breathe.’ Nothing is going to be stopped by arguing that protests have led to the murder of the two cops,” he said.
At the same time the mayor was making his speech, a protest was held in The Bronx to commemorate “Anthony Ramon Baez Day-Stop NYPD Terrorism!” Mr. Baez was killed by police officer Francis Lavoti, who used a chokehold and spent seven years in jail convicted of violating the young man’s civil rights.
There was a protest planned by several organizations to take place on NYC’s iconic Fifth Avenue at Final Call press time.
“We should not let them (police and the mayor) deflect our protests for justice,” Assemblyman elect Charles Barron told The Final Call. He didn’t see any connection between the protests and the killing of the officers. “Tell them and any leaders that ask us to stop the protests that no one stopped the police from doing what they do after the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Akai Gurley,” said Mr. Barron.
Mr. Gurley is the young man shot to death in a poorly lighted housing project stairwell recently in Brooklyn. NBC News has reported that on Dec. 17, a plainclothes NYPD officer was caught on video punching a teen three times.
The police said they were trying to arrest him for suspicion of committing an assault on a man in lower Manhattan. The news station reported that the officer was suspended and is under investigation by police internal affairs. The NYPD did not return Final Call requests for comment.
“I unconditionally condemn today’s murder of two police officers in New York City. Two brave men won’t be going home to their loved ones tonight, and for that, there is no justification. The officers who serve and protect our communities risk their own safety for ours every single day– and they deserve our respect and gratitude every single day. Tonight, I ask people to reject violence and words that harm, and turn to words that heal–prayer, patient dialogue, and sympathy for the friends and family of the fallen,” said President Barack Obama in a Dec.20 statement.
Attorney General Eric Holder also released a statement Dec. 20 condemning what he called the “senseless shooting” of the NYPD officers.
“This was an unspeakable act of barbarism, and I was deeply saddened to hear of the loss of these two brave officers in the line of duty,” Atty. Holder continued. “On behalf of all those who serve in the United States Department of Justice, I want to express my heartfelt condolences to the officers’ loved ones and colleagues. I will make available all of the resources of the Department to aid the NYPD in investigating this tragedy. This cowardly attack underscores the dangers that are routinely faced by those who protect and serve their fellow citizens.”
Civil rights leaders Sunday condemned the ambush killings of two New York police officers and expressed fear that the backlash over the bloodshed could derail the protest movement that has grown out of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
In the raw hours following the killing of the officers, police union officials and politicians accused those who have protested the deaths of Garner and Brown of fanning anti-police fervor. Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association in New York, said there was “blood on the hands” of demonstrators and elected officials who have criticized police tactics.
The Garner and Brown families issued statements repudiating the officers’ killings, while civil rights leaders took to the airwaves to try to put some distance between the movement and the crime.
“To link the criminal insanity of a lone gunman to the peaceful protests and aspirations of many people across the country, including the attorney general, the mayor and even the president, is simply not fair,” NAACP President Cornell William Brooks said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Mr. Brooks said the shootings were “certainly not a step forward” for the movement.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani lashed out at New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, President Obama and Attorney General Holder. Speaking on Fox News, Mr. Giuliani said: “We’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police.”
“They have created an atmosphere of severe, strong, anti-police hatred in certain communities, and for that, they should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
In a tweet, former New York Gov. George Pataki called the killings the “predictable outcome of divisive, anti-cop rhetoric of Attorney General Eric Holder and Bill De Blasio.”
“We’ve been denouncing violence in our community,” no matter who the target is, New York community activist Tony Herbert said. He said he worries that the shooting will be used to discredit the larger cause.
“It sullies the opportunity for us to make inroads to build the relationships we need to build to get the trust back,” he said. “This hurts.”
Similarly, the Rev. Sharpton, who has called for peaceful protests, called it absurd to blame protesters or politicians for the officers’ deaths.
“We are now under intense threat from those who are misguided–from those who are trying to blame everyone from civil rights leaders to the mayor rather than deal with an ugly spirit that all of us need to fight,” he said. “There are those of us committed to nonviolence and making the system work. And there are those committed to anarchy and recklessness who could care less about the families of police or the families who have raised questions about police accountability.”
Irene Sundiata Myers, a Black woman who was selling roses and inspirational words on Harlem’s Malcolm X Boulevard, said that because of the ambush, some officers might think twice about pulling the trigger on Black men.
“It will change the attitude of police across the country in terms of how they go about killing Black men, if they begin to think that there’s a possibility that there will be a retribution,” she said.
At an appearance with the Rev. Sharpton of the National Action Network, who denounced “eye-for-an-eye” violence against police, Mr. Garner’s mother expressed her dismay.
“I’m standing here in sorrow about losing those two police officers that was definitely not our agenda,” Gwen Garner said. “We are going in peace and anyone who’s standing with us we want you to not use Eric Garner’s name for violence because we are not about that.”
(Final Call staff and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)