The premeditated, ambush killing of two NYPD officers over the weekend will have ramifications far beyond the borough of Brooklyn. The assassinations of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu will affect the behavior of cops everywhere. In fact, it's already happening.
Police officers are now poised to treat pretty much anyone as a potential assailant. Already, chiefs and sheriffs around the country are creating new policies, and urging their officers to become extra vigilant. Can you blame them? A stranger walks up to a parked police car in broad daylight, assumes a shooting stance, and fires four rounds from a semiautomatic pistol before the officers can unholster their weapons.
Liu, a newlywed, and Ramos, father of two, including a 13-year-old boy, were themselves "symbolic assailants" in the twisted, predatory mind of the shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley. From what we've learned, the deceased officers were not anywhere near Staten Island when Eric Garner lost his life. But they were a symbol: uniformed, conspicuous, part of an oppressive arm of a repressive establishment. That they may have been, and likely were, honorable and decent human beings, was irrelevant to Brinsley. They were "the enemy."
A label NYPD's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association has obviously bought into, to the peril of its membership. Shock, grief, anguish and anger are emotions we can all understand, especially in the raw moments following the violent deaths of two of our brothers. Yet leadership demands special qualities at such a moment.
To declare, as Pat Lynch, president of the PBA, did in a Saturday statement, that NYPD is now engaged in "wartime policing" is the height of irresponsibility. I know he's hurting, I know he feels a need to send a strong message to his members. But police and protestors alike need to recognize that rhetoric like Lynch's -- "There is blood on many hands tonight... [the mayor and others have] incited violence on the street under the guise of protest..." -- produces precisely the opposite effect of what he, and all thinking, feeling human beings want: a safe, peaceful city. And a strong, mutually trusting relationship between the police and the people they serve.
The challenge now, even as we mourn the loss of these NYPD officers, is to recognize the need for less -- not more -- police militarization. The safety of a city's residents, the safety of its officers, is enhanced when we all work together to reduce violence.