It was exactly one week before two New York City police officers were brutally killed in cold blood that thousands of people flooded the streets of Manhattan to call for an end to police brutality. The demonstration was billed as an impressive example of how an entire movement could grow out of public outrage over a string of police shootings of unarmed black men.
Indeed, organizers have been able to sustain protests that started out as a spontaneous gathering of a community that had already witnessed enough violence. But the actions of a deranged man — allegedly inspired by the same outrage that serves as the bedrock of the nationwide protests — complicates the situation for those who want to see peaceful demonstrations thrive.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday has asked that protests and politically-charged rhetoric take a brief pause out respect for the families of the slain officers. And so the question now arises: Will the gruesome bloodshed on the streets of Brooklyn Saturday have a chilling effect on a movement just as it was gathering steam?
Leaders behind the movement swiftly condemned the killings as a senseless act of violence that was not borne out of protests’ message. Though jarred by the episode and obviously disturbed by its level of violence, many leaders said they did not expect the anger and pain felt by the protesters to give way anytime soon.
“There’s no pause button on grief, there’s no pause button on sorrow, there’s no pause button in healing,” said Michael Skolnik, an organizer of New York-based protests and leader of the group GlobalGrind.
That’s not to say that the killings won’t have a dramatic impact on the tone of any events held by the movement’s organizers. A vigil originally planned to honor Michael Brown and Eric Garner — two African-Americans killed at the hands of police earlier this year — took a turn Sunday when groups gathered in Brooklyn to mourn the loss of the two police officers killed over weekend.
Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, said the protests will continue to evolve just as they have in the months since demonstrations began in the wake of Brown’s Aug. 9 death
“There’s still unfinished work,” Robinson said.
Jumaane Williams, a city councilman out of Brooklyn, N.Y., said that protests should take a brief, two or three day hiatus out of respect for the slain officers and their families, but that the movement at large should continue forward.
“There’s a lot of anger out there,” Williams said. “What I’m pushing for is to make sure that whatever happens, it is civil and nonviolent.”
Police say the morning kicked off to a violent start Saturday after 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley fired a shot into the abdomen of his ex-girlfriend while the two were in her Baltimore home. From there, Brinsley is believed to have hopped onto a New York-bound Bolt Bus. His journey then ended in Brooklyn, where Brinsley walked up to a police cruiser holding officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
Police say Brinsley squeezed out four shots, striking the officers at a point-blank range, before he ran down the street. Two ConEdison workers who told police they saw the shooting and followed in pursuit. Brinley then ran into a subway station and turned the gun on himself.
Mayor de Blasio said he and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton visited with the families of the fallen officers Monday.
“We have to understand that an attack on them was an attack on all of us,” de Blasio said.
The New York Police Department — the largest force in the country — is expected increase the presence of officers in light of the weekend killings. But that should give cause for officers to clamp down on any future protests should groups choose to gather out on the streets once again, said Robinson of Color of Change.
“I’m not sure that a heightened militarization would have prevented this person from acting out in the way he did,” Robinson said of Brinsley. “He was not part of this movement.”
Brinsley is believed to have addressed his possible motives behind the brutal killings earlier in the day, allegedly posting to social media with messages referencing Garner and Brown. Organizers chalked the posts up to being an exploitation of their message, one that has been co-opted on numerous occasions by those who were not a part of the protests.
“It’s responsible to grieve for the lives of the officers who were murdered this week and also grieve for the lives of those killed by police — they’re not mutually exclusive,” Skolnik said. “None of us are anti-police — we’re anti-police brutality.”