“Come in here.”
“Yo, Patrick. Two cops got shot down in Bed-Stuy today.”
“Yeah, they were ambushed. One of our drivers isn’t back yet either. You guys better watch out tonight – the NYPD ain’t gonna be fucking around with anyone.”
And so began the last Saturday before Christmas.
It didn’t come as a complete surprise to some that this was the result of the animosity felt towards the Police after the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases but the manner in which this retaliation against the force in blue occurred was enough to make national headlines on the Monday morning news shows. Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were taken out point-blank by a deranged gunman who had come up from Maryland via bus earlier in the day. The suspect later took his own life in a nearby subway station as the officers were rushed to Woodhull Hospital. Immediately, fingers were pointed as for who was to blame for the execution-style attack, as two of NYPD’s finest became the first officers killed in the line of duty in over three years.
It wasn’t a surprise why this took place, as tensions between the Police and public were at the highest levels in Gotham in recent memory. Even before the Grand Jury decision in the Eric Garner case became public, the Occupy Wall Street movement pitted those committed to protect and serve against those who resisted the control over their right to free speech, petition, and assembly. Riots were common in the city’s history, from those in Union Square against the draft during the Civil War to those that set the inner city of Brooklyn and Bronx on fire in the 1960’s and ’70’s but these were the first that were taking place in the 21st Century and had a much broader undertone to both the message and those doing the protesting.
No one knew who was to blame for the tragedy that took place days before the last major holiday of 2014. Some thought that the Reverend Al Sharpton was the cause as he had relentlessly attacked New York’s finest for months on end, calling out their brutality and callousness. Letters to New York’s daily newspapers and PBA President Pat Lynch put the blame primarily on the Mayor, since he allowed dissenters to march on end through the streets as they disrupted businesses and traffic. Some were even heartless enough to call out the Police, saying that they had it coming and that the payback was inevitable. In the midst of the squabbling, two offices lay dead with it being found out later that Liu was covering another officer’s shift that day.
It’s no secret that those of us driving Taxis around the city are not the best of friends with the NYPD. In the few times I’ve encountered them during traffic stops, they have been quite forceful, blunt, and not the easiest of types to deal with and other drivers in my garage have had more than their fair share of gripes against them as well. While I do not find them to be the easiest of people to deal with, I have tremendous respect for them and what they do, knowing that they have to make split-second decisions on a daily basis in a city of over 8 1/2 million people that hail from nearly every corner of the globe. In addition, the current Police Commissioner (William Bratton) has plenty of experience in his current role as he held the same position under Mayor Giuliani throughout much of the 1990’s, back when the city was still recovering from the Crown Heights riots and the end of the surge in crime resulting from the crack epidemic.
These are different times however and a different response is what will be needed. The Mayor called for a halt in protests until the funeral and burials for the two officers but many felt that these words were too little and too late. For weeks on end, De Blasio gave the green light for those that felt like the Police force had overstepped its bounds, while those concerned with the rise in anger and resentment wondered why dissenters were given a free pass. Anyone who lived in New York long enough could see the writing in the wall as history had started to repeat itself:
24 years ago, a three-term mayor was denied a fourth chance to lead New York.
24 years ago, an outsider arose out of a crowded field to take the title of Hizzoner.
23 years ago, riots took over Brooklyn while the leadership in City Hall was unable to handle the rising tensions, as the thin blue line frayed dangerously close to breaking.
21 years ago, that person ended up becoming a one-term mayor.
With the exception of the latter statement, all of those were becoming true once again in the Big Apple with the link between the two being Sharpton.
Rising to prominence during the Tawana Brawley case in the late 1980’s, Sharpton became the de facto voice of the oppressed in New York and ultimately, America. Many accused of him being a race-baiter but his role took on a whole new meaning earlier this year when he was seated next to Blasio, Bratton, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan at a tension-quelling meeting at City Hall. While few doubted that he needed to attend, many wondered exactly when Sharpton was elected to a municipal office and deserved to be at the same table as officials that were entrusted with leading New York through the tumult. Some even questioned whose side the Mayor was on, feeling that he turned his back on those entrusted with defending citizens against criminals and wrongdoers.
Whatever the Mayor’s stance was, he staunchly called out those upset with the NYPD until after the anger and unrest from the force would calm down, giving the slain officers a chance to be memorialized and interred in peace. Liu’s widow was visibly shaken when giving her first public appearance since the slayings, saying that she was a newlywed that had big plans of a family with her husband. Ramos’ son wrote a touching letter saying how his Dad meant everything to him, humanizing the face of a force that many felt was out-of-touch with those they were entrusted to watch over.
As the year winds down the holiday decorations are put away, many questions remain unanswered. Most feel like this is not going to be the last incident of backlash and that the protests will inevitably start up again, bearing a dramatic plunge in January’s temperatures. One thing for sure is that for all the blame and vitriol, a man selling loosies on Staten Island and two on-duty officers in Brooklyn were heartlessly taken away from us far too soon. with tragic results.
The city deserves better than to have nothing of good come away from this, as has been the case so many times in the past.