After the shrill of gunfire filled a Brooklyn street, leaving two police officers dead on Saturday, the clamor of incendiary rhetoric and finger-pointing soon followed.
The police union president linked recent anti-police violence protests to the killings and said Mayor Bill de Blasio had blood on his hands. During a press conference shortly after the shooting deaths, a cadre of police officers literally turned their backs on de Blasio as he arrived, stoking the passions of officers and their supporters who feel the mayor hasn’t stood strongly enough with them.
“There’s blood on many hands tonight,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association. “That blood on the hands starts on the steps of city hall in the office of the mayor.”
Related: Cops turn their backs on NYC mayor
Investigators continue to pore over evidence in the case, and what may have driven the suspected killer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, to murder. Brinsley, who police say shot a female acquaintance in Baltimore earlier in the day before driving to Brooklyn, allegedly made remarks on social media saying that he planned on killing so-called “pigs” and made reference to the killing of Eric Garner. Police said after the shooting Brinsley fled to a nearby subway station, where he shot and killed himself.
In the aftermath of the shooting of officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, police and their supporters have blamed the overwhelmingly peaceful protest movements sparked by the grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Garner cases for spurring Saturday’s killings. As the city mourns what can only be described as the senseless killings of the officers, protesters and protests leaders have decried the loose connection between the protests and the killings as divisive, irresponsible and dangerous.
The Police Benevolent Association put out a statement after the killings saying they mayor’s hands are “dripping with our blood because of his words, actions and policies” and that the department has “for the first time in a number of years, become a ‘wartime’ police department.”
“We will act accordingly,” the statement read. Many critics of the union’s harsh words led some on social media to ask the question, if the department is at war then with whom exactly?
“We have to put all of this in proper context. What happened Saturday was tragic but completely unconnected to the movement,” Cherrell Brown said, an organizer with Equal Justice U.S.A, who has been active in the umbrella of protests calling for an end to what she described as the “extra-judicial killings” of black people by police. “This wasn’t at all related to protests, this wasn’t some revolutionary act. This was a senseless murder,” she said on the “Melissa Harris-Perry Show” Sunday morning.
Brown followed up with msnbc that “What we need more than anything right now is collective healing, not polarization based on false equivalencies.”
Garner was killed in July during an altercation with police on Staten Island after one of the officers placed Garner in an apparent chokehold. Protests erupted in New York and across the country after a grand jury chose not to indict the officer who killed Garner. The protests fueled what had already been a growing national movement against police violence sparked by the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in a St. Louis suburb in August. Just weeks before the grand jury’s decision in the Garner case not to indict the officer, a Missouri grand jury opted not to indict the officer who killed Brown.
A host of social justice groups have condemned the equivocation between the officers’ deaths and the protests.
Joo-Hyun Kang, director of Communities United for Police Reform, said “there are people who would seek to exploit this tragedy and use it to condemn the growing national moment to end police violence and discriminatory policing.
“Attempts to link [Saturday’s] tragic events with a movement that holds justice, dignity and respect for all as its core values are cheap political punditry, and dangerous in their divisiveness,” Kang said.
A coalition of organizations that have led protests in Ferguson released a joint statement in which they said they were “shocked and saddened” by the killings.
“We mourned with the families of Eric Garner and Mike Brown who experienced unspeakable loss, and similarly our hearts go out to the families of these officers who are now experiencing that same grief. They deserve all of our prayers,” the statement from the coalition, Ferguson Action said.
“Unfortunately, there have been attempts to draw misleading connections between this movement and today’s tragic events. Millions have stood together in acts of non-violent civil disobedience, one of the cornerstones of our democracy,” it continued. “It is irresponsible to draw connections between this movement and the actions of a troubled man who took the lives of these officers and attempted to take the life of his ex-partner, before ultimately taking his own.”The shooting comes as tensions across the city and the country remain high as thousands of protesters have taken to the streets demanding justice for the many black men killed each year by police. The recent killings of a growing list of unarmed young black men and boys in Ohio and Arizona have stoked sometimes fiery demonstrations, with mostly non-violent acts of civil disobedience shutting down department stores, streets and bridges in small and major cities like New York.
Following the jury’s decision on Staten Island in the Garner case, Mayor de Blasio called for peace, but angered police advocates when he concurred that drastic police reforms were needed and described the conversations he’s had with his own biracial son about being careful during interactions with the police. While the sentiments grounded him with many of those in communities that shoulder the brunt of alleged police abuses, police groups blasted the mayor for not seeming to stand whole-heartedly with officers.
The protests haven’t gone completely without incident. Last week, two officers were assaulted and hospitalized by protesters near the Brooklyn Bridge, police said, during a largely peaceful protest that drew more than 25,000 people. Three people have been arrested in connection with the assault.
Shortly after Saturday’s killings, Lynch, the police union leader, pounced at the opportunity to strike at the mayor and protesters.
“Those that incited violence on this street under the guise of protests, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day, we tried to warn, it must not go on,” he said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, an msnbc host and leader of the National Action Network which has organized marches and rallies on behalf of many of the most recent victims of police violence, including the families of Brown and Garner, has been one of the most vocal supporters of the protests but also among the most targeted publicly by those staunchly in support of law enforcement.
Sharpton in a statement said he has talked with Eric Garner’s family and they are beside themselves with the insinuation that those fighting in his name support the heinous killing of the officers.
“I have spoken to the Garner family and we are outraged by the early reports of the police killed in Brooklyn today,” Sharpton said. “Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases.”
“We have stressed at every rally and march that anyone engaged in any violence is an enemy to the pursuit of justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown,” he continued.
On Sunday morning, Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, told reporters that standing on the side of her son means standing with peace.
“Anyone who’s standing with us, we want you to not use Eric Garner’s name for violence because we are not about that,” Carr told reporters. “I’m standing here in sorrow about losing those two police officers.”
Esaw Garner, Garner’s widow, said her husband was not a violent man in life and that in death her family only wants peace.
“We don’t want violence connected to his name,” she said, empathizing with the families of the slain officers. “I know what they’re going through to lose a loved one right before the holidays.”
Whitney Dow, a filmmaker behind the Whitness Project, described by Dow as “an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as white experience their ethnicity, said the response and reaction to the officer’s deaths are typical of the manner in which Americans tend to see racially loaded events.
“As Americans we are prone to always putting these kinds of things in the political bucket, rather than seeing them as being about social justice,” Dow said. “It speaks to the binary nature of this country, but humans aren’t binary creatures.”
Dow said the protests on either side are led by those at the very front, the pointy tip ahead of the mass of supporters.
“But behind that pointy tip are very reasonable people,” he said. “The question becomes, how do you begin to have discussions with those people who are reasonable and most willing and able to have reasonable conversations.”
Cherrell Brown, the organizer, said long before the shooting groups had planned a silent march and vigil in Harlem on Sunday night. The timing couldn’t be more poignant, she said.
“It’s even more important that we come together now in love and wrap our arms around each other,” Brown said. “This is not an anti-cop movement. We’re just against the extra-judicial killing of black people with impunity.”