On Mayor Bill de Blasio, the NYPD and Holding Our Police Accountable

by Brittany Dawson

It is no secret New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is currently considered a pariah to members of the NYP . Beyond de Blasio’s political affiliation, with a Black wife and biracial children, de Blasio’s former comments on teaching his 17 year old son about the convoluted realm of race in America sparked outrage after the shooting deaths of officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. During de Blasio’s commemorative speech at Ramos’ funeral last weekend, members of the NYPD literally turned their backs to de Blasio.

The NYPD’s actions pinpoints what is believed to be a jab at de Blasio’s conversation on race, specifically their offense that de Blasio’s alluded to what we all know: Blacks are mistreated and brutalized regularly by law enforcement. All in all, the NYPD viewed de Blasio’s comments as anti-NYPD and more broadly, anti-police but in all actuality, neither are true.

First, let’s highlight two important implications extracted from the NYPD’s actions toward Mayor de Blasio and how the accompanying hashtag #NYPDLivesMatter is emblematic of the lack of police accountability and disregard of Black lives since Eric Garner’s death: (1) the appropriation of #BlackLivesMatter in order to create #NYPDLivesMatter is an example of the deliberate erasure of Black spaces; (2) the phrase “NYPD Lives Matter” is mutually exclusive when compared to Black lives.

Nowhere is the erasure of Black spaces more prevalent than in national discourse analyzing the deaths of African Americans by the hands of police. We enact Black disposability in how we are socialized to be leery of its victims and movements created in response to an unequal justice system. #BlackLivesMatter was created to speak candidly on the erasure of Black lives and Black spaces, creating a sphere of understanding and validation for our lives, a space mainstream media more often than not is uneager to relinquish.

As expected, #BlackLivesMatter has been viewed by many white people and non-Black people of color as another “reverse racist” or “race baiting” hashtag that disregards other experiences. While widely accepted in some regard, it was still pried apart by those who found it to be unimportant. Meanwhile, after the deaths of Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos on December 20th, #NYPDLivesMatter was created to say, “Hey, what about police lives? They matter too!” And to those naysayers I say, “You’re absolutely right!” But we are specifically focusing on BLACK lives. Again, I may be speaking for myself, but it was difficult to watch the same law enforcement group who obviously showed no empathy for Eric Garner to highjack this saying , movement, and its symbolic importance to respond to the killings of two police officers.

Don’t you find this uncomfortably ironic?

Look, I am not advocating for the killings of police officers, nor do I believe all police officers are “bad” or racist. There are many who abide by the law and fulfill their duty to the best of their ability. But what I am signaling is the hypocrisy and invincibility complex found within the NYPD and police in general. It is quite clear #BlackLivesMatter cannot be true if NYPD Lives—and other officers—are valued higher than folks of color. Again, the killings of Ramos and Lee are downright inexcusable. No member of law enforcement should be subjected to senseless acts of violence. And neither should Black people. Since when does wearing a badge secure invincibility and deflect accountability?

Let’s keep it real, if New York police officers aren’t held accountable, then it is no surprise this unwritten law is applicable to other examples of police trusted with protecting civilians. Darren Wilson is alive and well, probably swimming in a sea of money allegedly secured from fundraisers and exclusive media appearances. George Zimmerman (although not a member of police) recently told Armed American Radio “get insurance before you kill someone in self-defense” and spoke about other hardships, wrapping up the Boo Hoo, Woe Is Me 2014 tour. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who choked Garner to death back in July and had a history of misconduct, escaped media-heavy terms like “assassinator” and was simply regarded as an officer doing his job in the face of danger.

Do you see the common thread? The lives of officers (and wanna-be cops) already matter thanks to a judicial system and societal infrastructure continuing to allow them to kill Black people with impunity. If police officers can get away with it, imagine the wolves in sheep clothing in our government. These comments aren’t made to incite fear or mistrust with a select few public officials who dedicate their lives to enacting rules that address these inequities. But I am inaugurating a change in how we uphold the systemic loophole extended to members of law enforcement.

The media called for a mixture of silence, peaceful protests, and forgetfulness amid the impressive New Year’s Eve celebration in New York City, for fear of similar “violent” protests in response to Eric Garner’s death. It’s as though we are told to leave the killings of people of color by the hands of police behind in 2014. From the constant call that protesters put their demonstrations “on hold” to the disrespect of Mayor de Blasio shown by the NYPD, there is one common trait between the two: erasure.

The narrative surrounding the deaths of people of color caused by police is a precarious one: We all know Black bodies are treated as innately dangerous and aggressive vessels worthy of excessive force and death. The murder of Eric Garner, Tanesha Anderson, Aiyana Stanley Jones, and Mike Brown capture a collective fear and anxiety used to handle our community.

We must end the notion that the lives of law enforcement trump the lives of people of color. We must affirm again and again that #BlackLivesMatter.

Photo credit: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Brittany Dawson is a regular contributor at For Harriet. She is a senior at the University of South Carolina who is passionate about equality, social justice, and education. You may follow her on Twitter: @BrittanyJDawson.

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