“What do we want?” came the shouted question from the marchers in New York City on Dec. 13.
“Dead cops!” came the reply.
“When do we want it?”
It took seven days, perhaps too long to satisfy the mob’s impatience, but now that they have two dead police officers, how many more will they want?
I have for years instructed young police officers placed in my charge that they cannot go about their duties thinking everyone they meet will try to kill them. But, I warn them, nor can they forget that some people will. With this unsettling fact in mind, police officers train for various scenarios in which they might find themselves endangered. How will we respond if that liquor store on the corner is being robbed? Can we see inside? Is there a back door? Is there a getaway car idling nearby? Could there be a layoff man waiting unseen for the opportunity to ambush us?
Or take a scenario as simple as a traffic stop. How many people are in the car? What are they doing as we approach? Are they tracking us in the mirrors? Can we see their hands? Where is our closest cover if one of them pulls a gun? Will bystanders be endangered if we have to open fire?
The scenarios and the questions are endless, and they are on every police officer’s mind constantly, if not always consciously, as he goes through his day at work. Perhaps Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were having just this type of discussion as they sat in their parked police car in Brooklyn Saturday afternoon.
What police officers do not often discuss — or at least they didn’t until Saturday — is what to do if someone sneaks up behind you and without warning shoots you in the head.
It would be comforting to say that Saturday’s assassinations were simply the tragic denouement of one man’s descent into evil, and that police officers in New York and elsewhere needn’t concern themselves with the likelihood of similar attacks in the future. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case as the monster who killed Officers Liu and Ramos, though now deceased himself, has fans and sympathizers who have been unreserved in going online to express their approval of his deeds. The Daily Caller has some examples, among which is someone who took to Twitter and wrote, “Shout out the homie who shot those cops in Brooklyn.”
I won’t identify the Twitter user who wrote that, but if you’re curious you can find him easily enough. And if you do, and if you read his tweets, you’ll see that the man is a cretin, a fact he proves, 140 characters at a time, beyond reasonable doubt. But a shout-out is a shout-out, and for someone whose life is devoid of approbation, as the killer’s was, a shout-out from a cretin is better than none at all. Indeed the killer himself boasted of his plans online, and in the moments before shooting the officers he invited people on the street to “watch what I’m going to do.” It is beyond naive to deny there are others out there every bit as malevolent as the Brooklyn killer and every bit as hungry for recognition.
It goes without saying that the coming days and weeks will be trying for the men and women of the NYPD. Tensions in any police department always rise when an officer is killed on the job, and given the circumstances of Saturday’s horrors they will be especially elevated now. It will be a test of leadership at all levels of the department, most especially for the commissioner, William Bratton. It will be his task to straddle the unbridgeable divide between New York’s cops and its political structure, most notably Mayor Bill de Blasio, in whom the rank and file of the NYPD have lost what little trust they might have had in him before Saturday’s murders, a fact made abundantly clear when officers turned their backs on him at the hospital where Officers Liu and Ramos died. There is simply no repairing the relationship between the cops and the mayor. Given his earlier statements, any attempt by de Blasio at a rapprochement will be seen by the cops as shallow and insincere. Mr. Bratton’s only hope is to keep the rift from widening even further by insulating his cops from the nonsense emitting from City Hall.
Recall that in the wake of the Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officers involved in the death of Eric Garner, Mr. de Blasio spoke of warning his biracial son about the dangers inherent in encounters with police officers. “Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face,” he said. “[He is a] good young man, law abiding young man, never would think to do anything wrong, and yet because of the history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face. We’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.”
A question for Mr. de Blasio: If Dante were to find himself strolling along Tomkins Avenue in Brooklyn some afternoon, who would present the greater danger, the NYPD officers patrolling the neighborhood, or the hoodlums lodged in the local housing projects? It’s a question that shouldn’t even require thought, yet the answer forces anyone of de Blasio’s leftist inclinations to grapple with the discomfiting fact that, though crime in New York is at record lows, blacks are still responsible for a staggeringly disproportionate amount of it. If you were to check the NYPD’s crime map, you would see that through November of this year there had been two murders and 27 felony assaults in the four square blocks surrounding the intersection where Officers Liu and Ramos were killed. Who does Mr. de Blasio suppose is committing these crimes, and what does he tell his son about them?
The political theater of New York City, with a cast of characters found nowhere else, is often enjoyable to watch from the safe remove of the opposite coast, but with so much at stake it is painful to observe now. Amid all the heated rhetoric and pointed fingers, New York’s police officers are expected to go out every day and place themselves between the law-abiding and the lawless. Incredibly, they must do so without being altogether certain which of these sides their mayor is on.