More than one nightmare in NYPD slaying
The slaying of veteran NYPD officer and mother of three Miosotis Familia is a nightmare for reasons that go beyond her hideous and heart-breaking murder. Start with the words of the alleged shooter, Alexander Bond, “I’m not hesitating. It ain’t happening. I wasn’t a bitch in jail and I’m not going to be a bitch in these streets.” His words speak of rage, frustration and most grotesque of all, a warped sense of what manhood is. The tough-guy street talk, posture and demeaning of women is hardly a black, jail or street thug thing. This kind of talk can be heard in many spots where guys get together. The second nightmare in Familia’s murder is that it gives some a chance to finger-point black men as being inherently, crude, sexist and violence-prone.
The next nightmare is how the wanton gunning down of police officers can be twisted for crass political purposes. When police officers were slain in Dallas and Baton Rouge, police unions, waves of elected officials and Trump leaped over themselves to condemn the killings. That part was fine. But they didn’t stop there. They snidely hinted or flat out blamed variously then-President Obama and Black Lives Matter for supposedly creating the permissive and even lawless climate they claimed made it open season on cops.
The swift denunciation of the murders and expression of heartfelt sympathy for the slain officers and their families by nearly all civil rights groups meant nothing to them. The condemnation of the police murders and the sympathy expressed for them by the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner also were ignored.
Another nightmare is that killing police — in the crackpot, misguided belief that this somehow is payback for the police killings of innocent blacks — is dangerous and delusionary. This is the very thing that gives Trump, some police groups and conservative talking heads an even bigger pile of ammunition to scream that civil rights groups, BLM and police violence protesters have the officer’s blood on their hands.
Civil rights leaders consistently acknowledge that the majority of police officers are dedicated, conscientious public servants who genuinely are committed to protecting communities from crime and violence. Black lives do matter to them. Judging from her exemplary service record, this was certainly the case with Officer Familia.
There is also the recognition that officers do face real dangers. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund notes that there has been an increase in the number of law enforcement fatalities in recent years. This is legitimate cause for alarm.
There’s another nightmare and that is that all it takes is the crazed act of one unhinged individual to derail the growing recognition on the wider body politic and many public officials that police violence is a major legal and public policy issue that cannot be ignored. This was certainly the case in the aftermath of the police slayings of Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray and Terrence Crutcher.
The officers involved in those killings were either fired, suspended or prosecuted. Importantly, their slayings opened a national dialogue among law enforcement officials, the Obama administration, the Justice Department and many city and state officials on reforms that could be made to address the problem. They include the full authorization and use of body cameras, a grand jury system overhaul, the systematic tracking of the number of civilians killed by police officers, the appointment of independent investigators and prosecutors in officer-involved shootings and a revamp of policies and procedures on the use of and punishment for excessive force violations by officers.
The nightmare is that these reforms may be in mortal peril. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have made clear in countless statements, memos and policy directives that the federal government, namely the Justice Department, is out of the business of police reform. Hours after he took office, Trump erased the Obama administration’s White House civil rights webpage and replaced it with a bold declaration that the White House gives unreserved support to the police. The killing of officers such as Familia then can further heighten tensions between police, many of whom are already on edge, and minority communities. The killings can harden the attitudes of some police officers, thicken the thin blue line into a siege mentality of “us versus them.”
This can have deadly consequences on the streets and put even more civilians in harm’s way if police officers feel that their only recourse in a conflict situation, no matter how innocuous it may seem, is to resort to deadly force. The killing of a police officer always stirs anger, outrage and fear among many officers who instantly identify with and feel the pain of a slain officer. This would escalate the vicious cycle of violence and more violence as the accepted way to handle police-civilian encounters.
Familia’s murder was the worst kind of nightmare. The double tragedy is that it was not the only one.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.