New York City Police Commissioner, William J. Bratton, spoke at an officers’ funeral, over the coffin of Officer Rafael Ramos. Ramos was killed, shot from behind, by a criminal drifter, while Ramos was in his squad car on duty in Bedford Stuyvesant. Of all the speakers remembering Officer Ramos, it was “the Commish” who struck the precise correct tone to remember the officer and his slain partner, Officer Wenjian Liu, and to rally those assembled to go forward – and not just to go forward in New York – but across the nation.
Commissioner Bratton said: “We don’t see each other, the police officers and the people mad at the police. If we can learn to see each other, then we will heal, as a department, as a city, as a country. And wouldn’t that be an honor to these officers’ lives?”
At the funeral, Governor Cuomo invoked “the rule of law,” posturing in my opinion, pandering, as he’s more nuanced and able in politics than just to inflame the crowd, especially since the protest following the killing of an unarmed Staten Island resident, Eric Garner, 43, was not about disregarding the law but about the law applying to a police officer who killed an unarmed man, and how he was found blameless, despite the eye witness video and audio recordings of the officer choking the victim to death, and the autopsy confirming the cause of death.
No question that the “rule of law” would have applied to the heinous, cowardly, depraved and addled gunman who ambushed Officer Ramos and his partner in a squad car, had the gunman not taken his own worthless life – and become another catalyst for demagogic trash talk.
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani led the “trash parade” when he said, “We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police.”
The ongoing protest and its argument is about trust, not about hate, and whether we are all subject to one rule of law.
Yet, the content of the national dialogue is at risk of devolving into cartoonish slanders and the kind of rhetorical misdirection that Rudy prefers.
Ed Mullins, the head of the NY Sergeants Benevolent Association, another trash-talker, accused the New York Mayor of being “moronic.” The Mayor, Bill de Blasio, had publicly explained how he advised his 17-year old son, Dante, of mixed race, how to conduct himself when approached by an officer, not to make any sudden moves, to do what he’s told. The Mayor’s remarks were not “moronic,” they were what a parent should say to protect a teenage son.
Despite all of our double jointed, back slapping, self-congratulatory encomiums about our government’s unrelenting tolerance and fairness, our police practices are not uniformly tolerant nor fair, and we have some hard work ahead of us to get it half right.
Commissioner Bratton said on NBC’s Meet the Press that “We have a lot of talking we’re going to have to do here to understand all sides of the issue.”
When we fail to curb the excesses of official wrong-doing, we have “the Serpico dilemma” – an officer wanting to do what’s right when other officers are doing what’s wrong with impunity.
We should follow the “healing” course invoked by Commissioner Bratton, have that national dialogue, and reconsider every case in the nation in the last two years where a homicide charge against an officer for killing an unarmed victim was not pursued, establish rules of engagement for the use of force, make these rules the law, and prosecute officers who kill in violation of the rule of law.