Former Cop: Stop Demonizing Protestors
As a retired NYPD police captain turned preacher and #blacklivesmatter protest supporter, I find myself in an interesting position today.
I stand on both sides of the so-called "blue line," placing one foot in the world of the NYPD furious over the murder of two of our own and another foot in with the black and brown people of this city angry with the senseless deaths of young people at the hands of the police.
My overlapping identity were never as painfully apparent than in the last couple of days when Officer Rafael Ramos and Officer Wenjian Liu were brutally murdered while sitting in their patrol car. These brave men, who decided to risk their lives to protect ours, leave their families and the entire police department devastated.
I've been proud to be counted amongst those marching in the streets demanding that #blacklivesmatter. Many officers I knew are furious at me for "siding with the protestors." I tell them I am protesting because I know from personal experience, pastoral encounters and my time on the force that the criminal justice system and police can be better public servants for communities of color. The police don't need to target my community with broken windows policing and stop and frisk; they can be their partners.
Many of my former colleagues see the protests are simply "anti-cop" and have contributed to an atmosphere of disrespect for law enforcement that set the stage for these despicable murders.
Of course, there is no justification for the unconscionable murders of those two police officers. There is also no justification for blaming protestors exercising their first amendment rights to free assembly and to petition their government for murders they had nothing to do with. They should not be unfairly judged by the intemperate actions of a single, deranged lone wolf in the midst of an overwhelmingly non-violent movement.
A police union official went as far to say that Mayor DeBlasio has "blood on his hands," pouring gasoline on an already tense relationship between protestors and police. With comments like these, it's no wonder that protestors worry about a police backlash that will lead to increased violence toward them at the next demonstration. I look out over the abyss and I fear for my city.
This doesn't have to be a cop vs. protestor moment. We can change the dynamic.
So where do we go from here? How can we move forward together to make the kind of positive changes that will ultimately benefit us all? Given all that divides us and how much fear and anger simmers in our city, is a just peace even possible?
To the police, I say -- come meet some of the protestors. You'll meet people fighting for life and love, and hoping that with their activism, more of their brothers and sisters will be able to live full lives without the threat of violence. We are not anti-cop; we are pro-life.
To the protestors, I say -- come meet the good men and women I served with on the police force. Mourn with them now in this trying moment. Understand that many police officers fear for their lives, too. They want to serve their city and go home each night to their families. Because our movement is fundamentally about preserving and protecting life, we can easily show we care for the police safety without giving up our core message that the NYPD must be reformed.
But most importantly, it is almost Christmas. Many protestors and police will be celebrating Christmas in a few short days. Christmas is a time for miracles, when we mark the moment our all-powerful God came to earth as a tiny, vulnerable child, putting aside fear for faith. If the almighty God can choose to take on frail human flesh and become one of us, crossing the divide between heaven and earth, then we can look across the barricades and learn to see the humanity in one another.
This Christmas season we sing the familiar hymn "O Holy Night." One line in particular is my favorite: "Long lay the world in sin and error pining till God appeared and the soul felt its worth."
This city has have had enough of death. This Christmas, it is time to celebrate a new life in the birth of Jesus Christ, and to look to how in our time, we can put aside fear and anger, and make life and love manifest in this city -- for all its people.