The shootings of two New York City police officers over the weekend by a man with a history of mental illness were tragic and chilling. The killer had posted online messages vowing to kill cops before zeroing in on Officers Wenjian Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40, in their patrol car.
It is understandable that police around the nation are angry and on edge after the cold-blooded murders of two of their own. The shootings followed weeks of protests over several high-profile deaths of civilians killed during encounters with officers.
Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the 28-year-old man who killed himself after slaying Liu and Ramos, had indicated in an Instagram message that he wanted to shoot police as retaliation for the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City.
While most protest events around the nation, including in Kansas City, have been peaceful, a very small number of demonstrators have encouraged violence toward police. That needs to stop. Dialogue among police and responsible members of communities will serve a greater purpose at this point than accusatory gatherings.
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But the vicious blame exercise that swept into motion following the death of the New York officers also needs to stop.
Bill di Blasio, the mayor of New York, does not have “blood on his hands,” as the leader of the city’s police union has alleged. President Barack Obama has not been sending messages that “everybody should hate the police,” as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani irresponsibly said Sunday on a TV news show.
Obama, di Blasio and others have correctly acknowledged that the nation has work to do in terms of policing and relations between police forces and black communities. In New York, di Blasio has met with some of the protesting groups and given them some leeway to block streets. He has called for more training of police officers.
Those are constructive steps. The fury among black Americans that arose after the deaths of Brown and Garner was long in the making. An analysis by ProPublica this year showed that young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police than white males in their peer group. Americans of color are demanding equal treatment in the eyes of the law and leaders are right to acknowledge that.
If anything, a harsh crackdown on protests would likely have generated yet more anger for a deranged person like Brinsley to tap into.
Police officers assume great power and great risks. As a symbol of authority, they will always be a target for a certain type of hatred. This is the time to mourn the deaths of Officers Liu and Ramos and to tone down the rhetoric.