By Julianne Malveaux
Rafael Ramos had been a school security guard before he joined the New York City Police Department two years ago. Ramos, 40, was married and had two children. The youngest child, Jaden, 13, fondly remembered his dad on Facebook and Twitter, describing his dad as “the best father I could ask for.” Already, many in the Ramos family say they have forgiven the Ismaayl Brisley, the man who executed Rafael Ramos and his colleague, Wenjian Liu, on December 20.
Liu, 32, attended the College of Staten Island and Kingsborough Community College. He was a dedicated police officer who, according to news reports, chose his career out of a sense of duty and obligation. He had been married for just two months.
Eric Garner, 43, was also married and had six children; the youngest, Legacy, was born just three months before his father died. Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, probably because he was placed in a chokehold, a forbidden police maneuver. At 400 pounds, he suffered from diabetes and asthma, but – despite sinister efforts to blame Garner’s health for his death – those diseases did not kill him. A cursory view of the last moments of his life show excessive police force and medical indifference to a man whose dying utterance, “I can’t breathe,” has become the mantra for a movement.
Tamir Rice never lived long enough to reach the legal age for marriage. He was just 12 years old when when Timothy Loeman shot him to death. Loeman was described as “unfit” for police duty in Independence, Ohio but he somehow made it onto the larger, Cleveland police force. It took him all of two seconds to decide the precious little boy had a dangerous weapon, although the 911 caller who alerted the police said the gun was probably not real.
Michael Brown, described as a “gentle giant” by his friends, also had his life cut short. He was killed by a remorseless Darren Wilson, who pumped 12 rounds into the young, Black man who was looking forward to attending community college. His words, “hands up, don’t shoot” have been printed on signs and T-shirts all over the world, as a symbol of police brutality and active resistance. A grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson, whose testimony seems to have been coached by Robert McCulloch, a prosecutor whose actions were, at best, questionable. His killing, linked with those of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, has sparked an international movement against police brutality and excessive police force.
What links the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu? Some would say that one set of deaths was revenge for the other. Actually, all of the deaths represent a tragic loss of life. They represent losses for families and friends, tragedies for communities. The connection between Brown, Rice, Garner, Ramos and Liu is that all of these lives should be mourned.
Patrick Lynch, the president of the New York Police Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, has used incendiary rhetoric to link the killings of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu to the international protests against police brutality. Lynch blames the killings of Ramos and Liu on New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, whose compassionate words after a grand jury failed to indict Eric Garner’s killer set just the right tone.
Instead of asking who is to blame for the tragic deaths, Lynch should focus on the mental illness that clearly compelled Ismaaiyl Brinsley to kill two police officers. It is troubling that the media has focused on “revenge” shootings without fully exploring the possibility that Brinsley simply was “not all there.” He shot his former girlfriend before heading to New York to kill police officers, and then he killed himself. These are not the actions of a rational human being.
Acting in absolutely righteous rage, tens of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets, sometimes in actions that have been carefully orchestrated, and other times in spontaneous outrage. Al Sharpton gathered thousands to Washington, D.C., flanked by the mothers of the Black men who were slain. Refreshingly, the protesters were multi-racial and multi-generational. “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “I can’t breathe” were their watchwords. There is no thick line, and probably not even a dotted line between the police killings and killings of black men except for the fact that we live in a violent culture.
When Adam Lanza killed 26 people in Newtown, Conn. in 2011, his deranged Internet postings were seen as part of his mental illness. Too many are focusing on Ismaaiyl Brinkley’s supposed “revenge” and too few are focusing on his mental illness. And, most importantly, too few are focusing on the equivalence of life, the fact that every death is a tragedy.
Julianne Malveaux is an economist and author based in Washington D.C.