Cops across the country are mad. Mad as hell. Mad because some of America’s leaders have reinforced for months the dreadful lie that black people in America should fear the police. That cops are dangerous. That cops are racists.
Cops are mad because for all the sympathy shown for the lives of recent victims of police conduct — tragic and exceptional as they are — none was shown for the men and women who go to work each day to protect us from bad and often dangerous people.
None, that is, until two New York City cops were murdered in Brooklyn four days before Christmas. Until then, there was not a word of understanding for the tough situations cops respond to every day. Not a word about the risks they take with their lives, particularly those who work on the streets of our most dangerous neighborhoods.
“This is personal to me,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told the nation after the Eric Garner grand-jury decision was announced. De Blasio went on to describe the fears he and his wife, Chirlane, have for their biracial son’s safety: “So, I’ve had to worry over the years, Chirlane’s had to worry: Was Dante safe each night? There’s so many families in this city who feel that each and every night. Is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities of crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods, but are they safe from the very people they want to have faith in, as their protectors? That’s the reality.”
That’s why cops are mad. Because the narrative being pushed by Mayor de Blasio, Attorney General Holder, President Obama, and many civil-rights leaders is personal. Very personal. And the narrative is awful, because it’s incomplete — and untrue. Cops are essentially thrown into the same category as street thugs and gang members. As if cops were killing young black men at anywhere near the rate that young black men are killing each other in America’s biggest cities.
And three of these men — de Blasio, Holder, and Obama — lead the two biggest police forces in America: the NYPD and the FBI.
New York cops are mad at Mayor de Blasio in particular because he failed to mention that 2013 ended with the lowest number of fatal shootings by the police in 40 years in their city. Only eight people died from police gunfire, with a police force of over 30,000. And all of the victims were armed with either a gun or a cutting instrument. But none of those leaders bothered to report these narrative-busting facts — nor did the media.
And no one bothered to mention that New York City is on track in 2014 to have the fewest murders in 50 years. As of the beginning of December, there had been 290. That’s down from 2,200 in the early 1990s. The majority of lives saved were black, because the overwhelming majority of murder victims in the city are black. Do the math. Tens of thousands of black lives have been saved in the past two decades by cops in New York, but Mayor de Blasio couldn’t manage to share that fact in his heartfelt speech.
Mayor de Blasio, Attorney General Holder, and President Obama could have noted that in 2013 there were 6,261 black murder victims in the United States. Almost all were killed by black civilians, and not a single one of those deaths triggered mass-media hysteria or mass protests.
“Why are you killing us?” a protester recently asked Sergeant Harry Dilworth, a black cop from Ferguson, Mo. Dilworth told a New York Times reporter that he responded by naming three names, and asked the protester if he had heard of any of them. The protester hadn’t. Dilworth told him they were black men recently killed in St. Louis by other black men. “We’re not killing you; you’re killing yourselves,” Dilworth told the man.
Indeed, the worst kind of racism is the kind the media exhibit every day, because they seem to care about dead black people only when they are killed by white people. Or a “white Hispanic,” in the case of Trayvon Martin.
When white people get killed in a movie theater or a school by other white people, the media cover it, ad nauseam. But on the streets of our nation’s inner cities it’s Columbine every week — and the media yawn. And white America yawns, too. That’s a disgrace.
In 2013, 97 percent of all shooting victims in New York City were black or Hispanic and resided in low-income neighborhoods, and the shooters were almost exclusively black or Hispanic, according to NYPD statistics. That, our nation’s law-enforcement leaders could have explained, is why cops are involved in more altercations with minorities than with whites. That’s what gives the appearance of systemic racism.
The numbers are tragic, and they merit a big national dialogue about race and poverty — including a discussion of everything from the legacy of slavery and segregation, to our failing public schools and the 21st-century economy that is leaving poorly trained Americans further and further behind, to prison reform, with a focus on the groundbreaking work happening in red states like Texas and Georgia.
And, last, the elephant in the room: fatherlessness, which does more harm to minorities than perhaps all other social ills combined, and is an ever-growing social problem in white America too.
That’s why cops are mad. Because they are being blamed for problems they didn’t cause, and because not one of those leaders tried to exhibit any sympathy for cops. Given their empathetic powers — de Blasio nearly cried in his presser, and Obama conjured up an imaginary son in his talk with People magazine and then imagined the indignities that son would have experienced if he had actually existed — you would think that one of these men could have mustered a bit of emotion for cops and their families.
They could have asked us to imagine what it would be like to be the spouse of a cop working in New York City, or Detroit, or Los Angeles. Or some of the tough crime areas in white rural America.
What’s it like for the spouses and children of cops to watch their loved ones head off to work in dangerous neighborhoods, a gun in their holster and a bulletproof vest around their chest?
Most Americans have no idea what it’s like to be a cop — what cops worry about, what their families worry about. How easily a simple disturbance can get out of hand. How dangerous a domestic-violence case can turn. How tragically even a routine traffic stop can end.
What every cop I know tells me is this: What they worry about most is doing no harm to innocent people and getting home safe each night, and getting their partners home safe, too. And what they tell me over and over is this: What throws everything upside down is when the person being questioned or stopped doesn’t comply with the instructions of police — or, worse, when he or she resists — that’s when bad things happen. It doesn’t matter what the infraction is. When a citizen resists arrest, it is a danger signal. That’s when everything can head south.
And here’s something else that any of our leaders could have explained to the nation: Grand juries don’t often indict cops because cops are different. Citizens put cops in harm’s way, and when cops make mistakes or exercise bad judgment, we can’t criminalize those errors, any more than we can criminalize the bad decision of doctors. That’s what civil proceedings are for, and big monetary jury verdicts. Or there would be no cops. And no doctors.
When really bad cops — think of Abner Louima’s brutal treatment by sadistic cops in New York in 1997 — are dragged before grand juries, not only are they indicted, they are prosecuted and thrown in jail. And the folks happiest about it are cops.
That’s what any one of our leaders could have told the nation.
They could then have turned to the media and asked why it is that over 50 percent of Americans think crime rates have risen when in fact they have plummeted to historic lows. We know the answer, the leaders could have added: You people in the media hate good news. And you secretly liked seeing those flames in Ferguson, and were hoping for some in New York and other American cities, too, because it would have made for great ratings.
After saying all that, any one of them could have ended his press conference with a simple challenge: Ask Americans to spend a week with cops. Do ride-alongs in the toughest streets in town. Walk a mile in their shoes. You’ll learn that cops may not be who you think they are. You’ll probably come to respect them, and like them. A substantive outreach like that might go a long way toward healing a city.
Black people’s lives matter, a speech by any of those men could have ended. But cops’ lives matter, too.
— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network. He lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Reagan.