By now the pundits on both sides are getting themselves ready to weigh in on the endless debate over police, violence in the streets, the safety of officers and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The debate will likely intensify after the fatal shooting of New York policeman Randolph Holder. The 33-year-old, five-year veteran was gunned down Tuesday night in Harlem during pursuit of a suspect who had allegedly taken someone’s bicycle at gunpoint. The incident turned into an exchange of gunfire between police and the individual, according to NYPD Commissioner William Bratton.
Holder was killed when a bullet struck him in the head. The suspect, identified as Tyrone Howard, was wounded and later taken into custody.
The shooting is an ugly reminder of the December 2014 fatal broad daylight ambush officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were targeted by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, apparently in revenge for the police killing of Eric Garner. Brinsley, a drifter with a long criminal rap sheet, killed himself shortly after.
There’s no doubt there will be cops out there who say they are under constant risk and they can’t do their jobs without using certain tactics like “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” policing in order to keep illegal guns off the street. Their fear is substantiated every time we hear of a policeman dying in the line of duty, many of them leaving wives and young families.
Even in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray demonstrations, and unrest that ensued, many said the police seemed hesitant to do their jobs possibly for fear that they may wind up caught up in the situation six of their fellow officers did when Gray died.
But there’s no need to for anyone to say tactics that resulted in the deaths of Gray, Garner, Mike Brown Tamir Rice or Sandra Bland, Akai Gurley –to name a few — are justified because of the deaths of officers like Holder, Ramos and Liu.
Truth is, cops like them nationwide go to their jobs each day knowing the risk. Many are nervous about what could happen, but this is what they signed up for and they face it bravely. None of them want to die in the line of duty, or even expect it, but realize the risk is part of the job. The reality is thousands of daily interactions between police and the public result in both parties ending the encounter alive.
At the same time, unarmed people who have died at the hands of police didn’t sign up for any type of risk. Garner was allegedly selling loose cigarettes; Rice was playing with a toy gun in a park; Brown was coming from a convenience store; Bland was about to start a new job; Gurley was walking down a flight of public housing stairs. None of these actions were supposed to constitute any real danger.
Looking at it more deeply, the cops we’re talking about here are probably the kind of officers we want and need in the Black community. People who know the risk, but protect and serve anyway. Believe it or not, we do actually have a lot of cops out there like this. To them, Black Lives matter as well and they understand where they are and what communities they serve. When we lose them to gun violence, those are cops that cannot actually serve and protect. They cannot give a kid someone to look up to. They cannot create understanding between the community and law enforcement. Instead, the tension increases.
Probably the best example of this was New York police union president Pat Lynch in the wake of Ramos and Liu’s deaths who encouraged cops to turn their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio during Liu’s funeral. That was not only disrespectful to Liu’s family, but to the eight million people he died serving.
Holder’s fellow officers are no doubt hurting over his loss. All of New York should be as well. But nobody will benefit if his death is waved as a banner supporting lethal police violence against citizens – the very citizens he sought to protect.
Madison J. Gray is Managing Editor of Ebony.com. Follow him on Twitter @madisonjgray.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the manner in which Ismaaiyl Brinsley died. The article has been corrected to reflect that he committed suicide.