As police brutality protests have spread across the country, many people in the police force (from officers to administrators) have reacted negatively to the allegations of protesters, even feeling personally attacked by the actions of protesters. The offended officers felt their apprehension and anger was justified when, on December 20, 2014, Ismaaiyl Brinsley shot and killed New York Police Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
Brinsley was not associated with any protests, and the killing of the officers was a part of a larger, violent spree. Earlier that day, in Baltimore, Brinsley had shot his ex-girlfriend in the stomach before traveling to Brooklyn. After killing the two officers, Brinsley walked into a nearby subway station and shot himself.
Brinsley had made threatening posts on social media vowing for retaliation against the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
After the deaths of the Liu and Ramos, the Reverend Al Sharpton, along with Eric Garner’s widow and his mother, held a press conference. They condemned the shooting of the two officers and offered prayers, condolences and support to the officers’ families. They did not blame protesters for catalyzing Brinsley’s action.
Bad blood already existed between the New York Police Department and Mayor Bill de Blasio; the shootings intensified some NYPD officer’s distrust of their mayor. Disaffected officers, noted that de Blasio, in addition to supporting the protests, had been known to warn his son Dante, who is mixed-race, to take special care when interacting with police. NYPD officers have felt that through these actions, de Blasio labels them as racists. As a result, they had acted frostily towards the mayor. But following the shootings of the two officers, this gelid attitude crystallized into outright condemnation and rejection.
Patrick Lynch, the President of the New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, blamed de Blasio specifically for the two officer’s deaths, because of his support of the protests. Lynch claimed the mayor has “blood on his hands.” Others in the police force agreed with this sentiment, and turned their backs to the mayor during the funerals of the two officers as a simple, punitive gesture. Mayor de Blasio lamented this action, calling the NYPD officers “disrespectful” to the families of the victims. He implored them to instead protest outside city hall or the police department, rather than “put on your uniform and go to a funeral and engage in a political action.” De Blasio spoke at both officer’s funerals; de Blasio had also attended the officers in the hospital.
In addition to turning their backs upon the mayor, some New York police officers have responded to the shootings by reducing arrest rates overall. Though there have been no formal statements made by police unions or the NYPD about the decline in arrest rates, the effects are being felt across the city. In the first week of the decline in police activity, half the number of arrests were made compared to the week previous. 10% of the normal number of traffic and parking tickets were given out, and criminal summons were reduced by the thousands. Crime levels remained about the same, but are expected to rise as police activity remains low. In the mean time, citizens can only hope that the police will allow their sense of duty to trump their wounded pride, and step in to protect and serve when necessary.The leader of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, Richard Aborn, predicted that the “the only thing more critical to the cops right now than their outrage is their sense of duty.”
Not all American police officers have reacted negatively to the protests of police brutality and systemic racism in the justice system. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Chief of Police Cameron McLay was photographed holding a sign which read, “I resolve to challenge racism @ work #endwhitesilence.” However, McLay’s proactive stance on these issues is not a popular one, despite the chief’s authority. Following the publication of this photo, the president of the Pittsburgh police Howard McQuillan stated, “The chief is calling us racists. He believes the Pittsburgh Police Department is racist.” Chief McLay later responded, explaining that he meant no offense but that, “To me, the term ‘white silence’ simply means that we must be willing to speak up to address issues of racial injustice, poverty, etc.” He continued, “Race impacts how we view one another, and unconscious bias applies to how we deal with the public. It can also impact how we judge one another; I intend we will confront both through training.”