The beautiful autumn foliage of Pennsylvania’s Poconos Mountains served as the backdrop for several weeks of tension and fear during the massive manhunt for survivalist and copkiller, Eric Frein. Frein ambushed and killed State Police Corporal Bryon Dickson, II and seriously wounded Trooper Alex T. Douglass. Pennsylvanians are still coping with the tragedy, as are the devastated families of the two officers.
Perhaps Frein’s recent murderous attack is why the horrific December 20th ambush and assassination of two New York City police officers, Raphael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, has caused many Pennsylvanians’ hearts to break for the families of these two public servants, targeted simply because they wore the NYPD uniform. Officer Ramos, a devoted husband and father of two young children, celebrated his 40th birthday earlier this month. Officer Liu, who married two months ago, leaves behind his devastated young wife and parents.
The assassination of Officers Ramos and Liu mark a critical moment in this nation's recent discussions on police practices and race relations in the aftermath of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
As a nation, how do we make sense of the events, especially since grand juries in Missouri and New York, after reviewing the evidence, declined to indict either of the officers involved?
As a father of three, I can't imagine losing a child under any circumstances. Yet, Michael Brown engaged in multiple criminal actions on that fateful day. Robbing a store (on video), defying a police order to get on the sidewalk and out of the middle of the street, resisting arrest, attempting to take Officer Wilson's firearm (which discharged during the altercation) and then rushing at that same officer are facts corroborated by multiple witnesses and supported by forensic evidence. Given these facts, the grand jury made the right decision not to indict Officer Wilson.
Out of this tragic event came the wanton destruction of the Ferguson Riots, the "hands up, don't shoot" protests, the undue vilification of Officer Wilson, and the unhelpful lectures from discredited provocateur Al Sharpton.
The circumstances of Eric Garner’s death are also complex and tragic. While the video image of Mr. Garner's arrest is disturbing, a grand jury decided not to indict the NYPD officer in question. Reasonable people can disagree about the grand jury's decision, but that was their informed judgment after hearing the arguments and seeing all the evidence. No one should die for selling “loose” cigarettes.
However, the cases of Brown and Garner do not provide a reasonable pretext to end the highly effective "broken windows" police practices or to prohibit local police from buying military surplus protective gear and other equipment. Absolutely neither justifies the actions of some New York protestors, despicably caught on video, chanting: “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!”
Police work is inherently dangerous. Officers must enforce the law in any number of difficult situations under pressures few outside of the military could possibly understand. From routine traffic stops to domestic violence situations to hostage cases to murder scenes, America's finest deal with it all. It's past time to stop the bashing of law enforcement officers. They deserve our support. They certainly have mine.
It is necessary to engage in a conversation to discuss the fears of those in the African American community about their relationship with law enforcement. Efforts to build a sense of teamwork and trust between law enforcement and residents of neighborhoods experiencing high crime rates must be made. Moreover, the makeup of police departments should reflect the people and communities they serve.
As the nation comes to grips with the deaths of Officers Ramos and Liu, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio should be held to account for his anti-police campaign rhetoric and tacit approval of the protests against his police department, which is not only diverse but among the finest big city police forces anywhere in the world. The indelible image of New York police officers turning their backs on the Mayor – on two separate high profile occasions – should be cause for him to reflect and do some serious soul searching. Mayor de Blasio is perceived by many in the NYPD, as well as the broader community nationally, as hostile to the very public servants New Yorkers rely upon to keep their city safe.
Mayor de Blasio is not responsible for the deaths of the two officers; gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley is solely responsible. However, the Mayor’s words and actions have contributed to an anti-police atmosphere, not only in his city, but also around the nation. If he’s wise, the Mayor will work to repair his relationship with the men and women of the NYPD. An apology from the Mayor to the NYPD regarding some of his recent statements would be a constructive first step.
Anyone who has ever attended a local crime watch meeting knows that police officers care deeply about the communities they serve. I’ve attended many of these over the years and the officers have immersed themselves in the daily life of the neighborhoods for which they are responsible.
It's about time the national media narrative start to reflect this reality and treat police officers with the respect they have earned. Now is the time for us all to roll up our sleeves and work to address the underlying issues that have animated enormous emotion in communities across our country.