Last fall an apparently unbalanced survivalist steeped in anti-government paranoia murdered a Pennsylvania State Trooper and seriously wounded another Trooper during a sniper attack. Recently an apparently unbalanced man with a criminal past murdered two New York City policemen as they sat in their patrol car hours after he allegedly shot a former girl friend.
Authorities said Eric Frien, the man now charged with attacking the State Troopers, acted out of anti-government beliefs to “wake people up” because he wanted to make a “change in government.”
Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the man who executed those two New York City policemen before he shot himself on a subway platform acted out of beliefs opposed to police brutality according to announcements from authorities based on Brinsley’s Internet postings.
Brinsley shot the officers as revenge for the police killings of Eric Garner in the Staten Island section of New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, authorities claimed, based on his internet messages. He reportedly rode a bus from Baltimore to NYC, authorities said. After shooting his former girl friend. In NYC, he then went to Brooklyn, where he randomly shot Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were on a temporary assignment there in a squad car.
The murderous act of the unbalanced Eric Frien, who is white, and the murderous act of the unbalanced Brinsley, who is black, however, have triggered starkly different responses from law enforcement supporters.
Few of those law enforcement supporters publicly berated the entire anti-government movement during or after the 48-day search that ended in the capture of Frien -– a manhunt that cost Pennsylvania over $10-million.
Yet, shortly after those brutal murders by Brinsley, many supporters of law enforcement unleashed a barrage of caustic barbs at the anti-brutality movement and persons targeted by law enforcement supporters for backing anti-brutality protests. Law enforcement supporters have been incensed by the anti-brutality protests that have roiled cities across the country during the past few weeks.
Those law enforcement supporters that linked the lone act of Brinsley to all critics of police brutality significantly did not link the lone act of Frien to all critics who consider government to be the enemy. While anti-brutality protests have been predominately peaceful although sometimes raucous, anti-government activism includes vocal proponents whose adherents have a long history of violent and often murderous attacks police and prosecutors, and even on the public, terrorism actions that have killed dozens, including children.
The starkly different responses from law enforcement supporters to these two recent murderous attacks on police in Pennsylvania and NYC make it abundantly clear that police defenders are not working to ensure that the American justice system is truly just.
Law enforcement supporters vigorously and persistently oppose both criticism of police abuses (criticism protected by First Amendment rights) and even the most limited reforms initiated to reduce police abuses -– even limited reforms that ironically would reduce the need to criticize the police. In 1992, New York City police staged a violent protest outside that that town’s City Hall in opposition of then Mayor David Dinkins’ support of an independent civilian complaint review board to monitor abuses by police.
Law enforcement supporters consistently claim critics of police abuses are characterized by a blind hatred of all police. Supporters imply that this hatred is practically embedded in the collective DNA of critics. Yet, as one NYC activist noted on the eve of the 1999 trial for one of the NYPD officers charged with the brutal beating and broomstick sodomizing assault on Abner Louima: “We’re not anti-police. We’re anti-police state.”
Anti-brutality protestors condemn the legacy of double standards under which authorities on the one hand will proclaim their allegiance to “law-&-order,” while on the other they will remain oblivious to illegal brutality by police. A 1994 report on police corruption in NYC stated police department supervisors encouraged a tolerance of unnecessary force.
America’s legacy of accommodation toward abuses by law enforcement was cited in an April 2014 report from the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee. That report, virtually uncovered by American mainstream media condemned excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, racial profiling by police and racial disparities in the criminal justice system among other human rights violations in the United States.
“The Committee is concerned about the still high number of fatal shootings by certain police forces…,” that U.N. reported stated. That report urged American authorities to prosecute “perpetrators” of police abuse -– a suggestion not implemented in the cases of Brown, Garner and other news-making police abuse incidents in the months following released of that U.N. report.
The conclusions of that UN report clash with views of law enforcement and their supporters. The head of the national police union, Fraternal Order of Police President Chuck Canterbury, said “I don’t believe there are systemic problems in law enforcement,” during a recent “Meet the Press” television program. Canterbury also said, “We believe the existing system works,” countering criticisms leveled at failures of grand juries and police department internal investigators to hold police accountable for abusive misconduct.
Caustic criticism from some law enforcement supporters in the wake of the tragic New York City police murders have elevated the inane to the absurd.
Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, speaking on Fox TV, blasted current NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio and civil rights activist Al Sharpton for having “blood on their hands” for the murders of the two NYPD officers.
Kerik linked De Blasio and Sharpton to Brinsley’s contending their criticism of ongoing police abuses was an impetus for Brinsley’s rampage. De Blasio and Sharpton (along with millions nationwide) have condemned the failure of a grand jury to indict the NYPD officer who killed Garner with a chokehold that violated NYPD procedures. The death of Garner was captured on cell phone video that ended with a NYPD officer smiling at the camera.
Kerik, it should be noted, is the former law enforcement official who served a short sentence in federal prison after he pled guilty in 2009 to corruption charges, including criminal conspiracy and lying under oath. Kerik is also the former law enforcement official (including a stint as head of NYC’s prison system) who pled guilty to ethics violations and paid $221,000 in fines three years before that federal guilty plea. And Kerik is the official who withdrew his nomination by then President George W. Bush to head Homeland Security because he had employed an illegal immigrant as a nanny. His tainted past did not stop the law enforcement supporters at FOX News from giving him a televised platform to assault critics of police abuse, though.
Other law enforcement supporters repeated that “blood on their hands” tar brush theme advanced by Kerik. Those supporters included former NYC federal prosecutor and mayor Rudy Giuliani and current NYC police union head Patrick Lynch.
Giuliani harangued U.S. President Barack Obama and black leaders for stoking “anti-police hatred.” Giuliani, during his two mayoral terms, was dismissive of critics who opposed the assault on Abner Louima, the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo and a chain of other police brutality incidents in America’s largest city. A 1998 Human Rights Watch report on police brutality in America criticized Giuliani for his “persistent and seemingly automatic defense of officers accused of abusive treatment –- even when he lacked a factual basis to do so.”
Police union head Lynch quickly assailed brutality critics after the recent police killings – a contrast to his reserved posture expressed in the wake of the September 2014 police assault on a pregnant woman who was slammed onto a sidewalk belly first. That 1998 HRW report stated police unions in NYC have often been the “primary obstacle” to efforts at implementing reforms.
Critics of police abuses have long contended that too many police departments in America act more like occupying armies in poor and non-white communities than as organizations charged with protecting and serving the public.
America’s Declaration of Independence, issued in 1776, assailed the then King of England for having armed troops occupying the then America colonies. The Declaration pointedly criticized the King for “protecting [those troops] from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants” of the American colonies.
Writer Paul Craig Roberts, a former assistant treasurer in the administration of Republican icon Ronald Reagan, stated in a recent commentary that the U.S. justice system is “no longer concerned with justice.”
Roberts argued that with the justice system focused on the careers of prosecutors, punishing the powerless and protecting the powerful “it is hardly surprising that police lack any concept of justice.”
Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.