Before we delve into the real subject of this article, condolences must go out to the families of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos whose lives were taken while serving the great city of New York. All lives matter, and these two police officers were innocent victims of a troubled, misguided, and possibly mentally-ill individual. No person, police officer or civilian, should be murdered in the streets. And, no family should mourn their loved ones behind a senseless killing.
But, in lieu of the numerous recent incidents of unarmed shooting deaths of Black men at the hands of law enforcement officers, one singular question has to be raised. How could this not happen? Officers have abused their authority with minorities since the 50′s. The inhumane acts carried out in the name of Jim Crow laws set a precedent for the mistreatment of minorities in this country. Black people were persecuted and killed in the streets solely because of their skin color. Eventually, those laws were rescinded, but police forces still treated minorities poorly throughout the 50′s and 60′s. The next time that police brutality was publicly addressed was in the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965. The National Guard was forced to come in and quell tensions between the community and the police force. From there, police corruption has crept into the public view intermittently despite its constant presence. It hit the newsstands again in the 70′s when Frank Serpico began uncovering systems of bribery and unlawfulness in the New York Police Department. He turned in his fellow officers amidst death threats and lost his job, eventually moving to Europe for his own safety. The tape of the public, brutal beating of Rodney King was released in 1992 to remind the general public of the atrocities regularly committed by law enforcement against the poor. Minorities had suffered brutality at the hands of law enforcement for 40 years, however the authorities were either acquitted of any wrong-doing or not indicted at all. Social media and the sheer numbers of police shooting deaths have converged to raise public awareness of the mistreatment of minorities, but the disparity between the treatment of minorities and the majority has been wide for decades. None of this exonerates the criminal who took these officers lives, but it does give a feasible background story to the violent act that he committed.
Oppression comes in many different forms. So does injustice. And, the only way to describe the treatment of minorities by the police is vindictive and immoral. Minorities, especially unarmed Black men, are being killed at alarming rates by the people who are sworn to protect them. In 2014 alone, there were 14 cases of unarmed Black men losing their lives to police officers and 76 cases since 1999. And, at some point, there had to be either an organized, community-led revolt or some radical form of reprisal.
The “street justice” that led to the deaths of Officers Liu and Ramos was not fair to those officers or their families, however an act of retribution was inevitable at this point. Cops have beaten minorities, imprisoned them (sometimes justly sometimes unjustly), and have flexed an air of superiority and invincibility in low income housing for a nearly sixty years. Police officers have been militarized over the last ten years, and they have brought a counter-terrorism approach into everyday encounters with citizens. Officers risk their lives everyday, and better tactics are necessary to keep our officers safe. However, local law enforcement is not bound to the same code of escalation of force that the military is bound by, so they should not be taught to use the same amount of force. Local police have the weapons, strategies, and training to fight a war against a terrorist faction, but they do not have laws that stop their abuse of that power. They should be protecting and serving the community that pays them, not antagonizing them.
Relations between police and the minority community have been strained long enough to undermine any trust that may have been built between the two sides. There has been a long history of institutionalized violence against minorities - especially the Black community - for more than half a century. And now, the basic handling of everyday situations has been taught to be seen through a militarized scope, further exacerbating a known social problem. As long as citizens are treated like the enemy of those who are supposed to protect them, there will be disquiet and contempt between policemen and minority groups. And unfortunately, if more incidents of police brutality arise, more violent reprisals may ensue.