Now you can get a link to your weekly NYPD Confidential column in your mailbox as soon as it is published! Click on the sign-up button above right on this page — or here — to sign up for this new feature.
Police and Black Americans: Can They Ever Get Along?
July 18, 2016
The seemingly unbridgeable chasm between the police and black Americans widened yesterday with what officials described as an “ambush” shooting that killed three cops and wounded three more in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Authorities described the killer as a 29-year-old ex-marine African American from Kansas City.
The shootings followed the assassinations of five Dallas police officers by a black army veteran who said he wanted to kill white people, especially police officers.
Those shootings followed the fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling, a black man, in Baton Rouge, and of Philando Castile, a black man, in Minnesota. The Dallas shooter cited their deaths as justification for killing the Dallas officers.
Baton Rouge police said cops shot Sterling after he reached for a gun, which was later found in his pants’ pocket. Minnesota police said the cop who stopped Castile did so because Castile matched the description of an armed robbery suspect.
Meanwhile, in New York yesterday, police fatally shot a black man after they said they responded to a call reporting a gun-point robbery and encountered the suspect armed with a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun.
At the same time, this seemingly unbridgeable chasm was reflected in Mayor de Blasio’s and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton’s public disagreement over Black Lives Matter, the protest movement that many police believe has exacerbated tensions.
The mayor said last week that the movement has “hit the right note” on police shootings.
“Young men of color live in fear all of the time,” he said. His wife, Chirlane McCray, said she and her husband see Black Lives Matter as “a force for good. It’s about peaceful protests. It’s about shining a light on the problems that we have in race relations across this country.”
Bratton, however, sees BLM as anti-cop. It “has focused its energy entirely on police,” he has said, with “yelling and screaming [that] doesn’t resolve anything.”
Many police officers feel blacks care more about police shootings of blacks than about blacks killing each other, which occurs a lot more often. Bratton recently noted that 38 percent of shooting victims refuse to cooperate with police.
“No one seems to be marching against that,” he said.
The subject is so politically fraught that Councilman Jumaane Williams, a black Brooklyn Democrat, asked Bratton to apologize “for the insinuation that we have to choose which violence we should accept.”
Black Lives Matter came to prominence following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. Ignored in the immediate aftermath was the fact that Brown had just robbed a convenience store and, when stopped by Wilson (not for that but supposedly for walking in the middle of the street), he attacked the white officer and tried to grab his gun.
With no official police narrative, the media accepted the accounts of eyewitnesses, who said Brown had his hands up when he was shot. (Many in the media do not realize that, like the police, eyewitnesses often lie.)
Still, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” became a national mantra.
Such things have happened before. Thirty years ago, Tawana Brawley, a black teenager, claimed she had been raped by a group of hooded white men. Her accusation turned out to be a lie. Nonetheless, the Rev. Al Sharpton rode that case to civil rights stardom.
Sharpton was at Sterling’s funeral over the weekend, vying for attention with the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Infuriating as he can be to white people, this reporter included, Sharpton understands black anguish and aspiration as no white person can.
Referring to the Dallas police shootings at Sterling's funeral, Sharpton said that, when people kill police officers, they are held accountable. Apparently referring to black men and women who have died at the hands of police, he said, “When others are killed wrong, you find ways to excuse it.”
Sharpton cited the death two years ago of Eric Garner in Staten Island after a police “chokehold,” and the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
There is another fatal police shooting that Sharpton well knows: that of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant who police shot 19 times while he stood in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment. After the February 1999, shooting, Sharpton led a month-long demonstration at Police Plaza, where every black politician in the country it seemed, tried to get himself arrested.
The four officers who shot Diallo were acquitted of second-degree murder charges in state court Albany, where the case had been moved. The feds did not charge any of the officers with violating Diallo’s rights.
At the same time, let’s not forget this: Sean Carroll, the officer who fired the first of 41 shots, mistakenly thinking Diallo was holding a gun, did not try to hide, obfuscate or plant a weapon. Instead, when he discovered that what he thought was a gun was actually a wallet, he broke into tears.
He then tried to resuscitate Diallo. It was, of course, too late.
Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt