I'm one of the millions of New Yorkers who woke up heartbroken today thinking of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos who were shot dead yesterday while sitting in their car in Brooklyn by Ismaaiyl Brinsley.
As the news unfolded, we learned the briefest details of the two men's lives such as the fact that Liu was married just two months ago, and that Ramos has a wife and a 13 year old son who "couldn't comprehend what had happened to his father", according to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio who met with the families before a press conference last night. I offered prayers for the men, and their widows and son.
Liu and Ramos were not the only victims of Brinsley's deadly rampage yesterday. Earlier that day, the Atlanta resident had allegedly shot his former girlfriend in Maryland, who apparently now is in "serious condition". After killing the two police officers, Brinsley fled and apparently killed himself in a nearby subway station.
The assassinations come at a particularly tense moment in America. Recent deaths of black citizens at the hands of police in Ferguson, Cleveland and here in New York have sparked protests and calls for investigation of racism within our policing and criminal justice system. I have been part of those protests. One week ago, I was in Washington, D.C. along with thousands of other Americans of all ages, races and religions who came together in peaceful protest and to listen to the mothers and wives of those men whose lives had been lost.
Never once did I hear any suggestion of violence against the police either in the march or from the microphone. The consistent call was to work with our elected officials, courts and police departments to improve our criminal system. The goal of this movement is justice -- its means are non-violent, prophetic action. When I heard the news about the Ramos and Liu killings, I prayed that it was not linked in any way to the peaceful protests that I had been a part of.
But horrifically, the assassin made the connection himself.
He wrote on an Instagram account: "I'm putting wings on pigs today, They take 1 of ours, let's take 2 of theirs #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGardner #RIPMichaelBrown".
When I saw that I felt sick. And even sicker because the post had 17 Likes, meaning that 17 people read this obviously violent post and supported it and urged him on. And now they have blood on their hands well.
Unfortunately, the person NYC Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch blamed was not Ismaaiyl Brinsley, or any accomplices that may have known about his alleged intention to kill his ex-girlfriend and two police officers. Instead, he, Pataki, Giuliani and and other pundits declared that the people to blame were Obama, Holder, de Blasio and all those who have been involved in the nation wide protests.
"There's blood on many hands tonight," Lynch said last night, "That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor." Lynch went on to blame those who "incited violence on the street under the guise of protest."
I guess he means me?
The response Lynch and some conservative commentators have had to the horrific killing of these two police officers and the alleged attempt to kill a woman is profoundly un-American. It is meant to chill any criticism or efforts to improve our country and only serves to divide an already deeply divided country and to increase tensions in an already tense time.
Instead of having the deaths of Liu and Ramos further tear us apart, could this serve as a moment of bringing us together? Liu and Ramos are reminders to any who would demonize the police, that our law enforcement is made up of people of all races and backgrounds, who have families and who feel called to this duty to protect and serve.
The families of Eric Garner and Michael Brown were among the first to condemn the killing of Ramos and Liu last night. The protests around the #BlackLivesMatter movement was never against the police, but it was a call to acknowledge that we can do better as a society that continues to bear the scars of racism.
That effort must continue; we can and must do better as a nation. But it will only be successful if everyone comes together and recognizes one another as human beings, deserving of respect, dignity and life.
Instead of pitting the deaths of Liu and Ramos against Garner and Brown, we can join them together, understanding them as martyrs whose inspire us on both sides of the blue line to work for a more just, safe and united America.
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As Martin Luther King, Jr. preached in his Christmas Sermon in 1967: "This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without." - LISTEN: