The best thing our civic leaders – both elected and self-appointed — can do to honor the two New York City police officers who were murdered yesterday is to impose a self-moratorium on agenda-driven rhetoric while the City grieves and pays these officers the respect they deserve. They should focus on the officers and their sacrifice, and take time off from their increasingly divisive war of words.
But they can’t help themselves.
Today a local Congressman is on the air saying this is what happens when people start criticizing the police. A potential presidential candidate tweeted that the murder is the result of the atmosphere created by Mayor DeBlasio and the protesters.
Simple statements from politicians who want us to believe there are simple answers. There aren’t.
The gunman seems to be a career criminal of the type that should have been removed from the streets long ago. Before he murdered the police officers he also tried to kill a former girlfriend. He may have said the murder of the officers was in retribution for Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but the fact is that he was a repeat felon from way back. He didn’t need reasons to harm people. He just did.
At a time when one-third of all Americans have a documented brush with the law, we should be asking why this guy was still walking around when we spend so much time and effort to lock up non-violent offenders, drug addicts, and juveniles. If our criminal justice was better focused, then police would be safer, along with the rest of us.
Those who use yesterday’s tragic murders to condemn those who have questioned police tactics in recent months are no more helpful than the Ferguson or Staten Island protesters who claim cops are institutionally racist. They might score points with their followers, but they lead us no closer to bridging the gap that still divides the races in America.
And what about the Eric Garner case? The public seems to have it right even if the headline-grabbers don’t. Sixty percent of New Yorkers think the police mishandled the Eric Garner incident – to the extent that they believe some sort of charges were warranted. But a majority is also sick of the protesters shutting down streets, and they don’t agree with demonizing the police department as racist. They have far more respect for the difficult job these men and women accomplish than do the protesters – or more importantly their headline-seeking leadership.
Yet those who advocate for police are also fanning the flames. The head of New York City’s police union is on the air claiming the City is back on a “war footing.” He’s wrong, as anyone who lived in New York during the eighties and early nineties knows. This kind of escalating rhetoric is exactly what we don’t need.
The anti-cop protest crowd has taken a momentary turn, scrambling over themselves to praise the police that they were so roundly condemning just last week. But as soon as there is another incident that jibes with their agenda, they’ll be back. Meanwhile, those who want to protest the protesters will use this tragedy to accuse them of collective responsibility for the act of a single murderous individual.
It is time to reject all of those who insist on casting our society as us and them. Let’s embrace those who only believe in us.
Jim Cavanaugh is former Supervisor of Town of Eastchester and former Chair of Westchester County Republican Committee.