“I’m putting wings on pigs today.”
Ismaaiyl Brinsley followed that statement on his Instagram account with “this may be my final post.” Hours later, two police officers were shot in the head through the windshield of a parked NYPD vehicle, and Brinsley turned the gun on himself. That’s three more bodies in what has quietly become a scattershot, unorganized and uninformed violent anti-authority street revolution. The murders were allegedly meant to be a sort of revenge for the recent death of Eric Garner, a man who died as the result of what can really only be described as police negligence – he was left unconscious on the ground for several minutes without any attempts at resuscitation before medical help arrived. Eric Garner has often been lumped in with the cases of Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, John Crawford and Tamir Rice as indicative of a new wave of police brutality and racism; reactions have ranged from the silent t-shirt protests of notable athletes to public crowd-based demonstrations – and of course, the aforementioned senseless violence.
While it’s easy to lump these together as proof that white cops get a rise out of killing black men (and in the case of Rice, children), the sensationalist media and what are essentially hipster protesters seem to miss that the only thing that really ties these stories together is that they happened so close together in time. Michael Brown was shot while essentially attacking a police officer; he was already a robbery suspect and was blatantly refusing simple police orders to move out of the way of traffic. Meanwhile, Akai Gurley was simply walking up a dark flight of stairs when he was shot. Tamir Rice (although it was later found that the shooting officer had been deemed “emotionally unstable and unfit for duty” in a previous job) was strolling through a park with what appeared by any bystander to be a live weapon. Regardless of reason or fault, the death of another human being is a tragedy through and through; but to lump what are clearly isolated events into reason for violence or hatred towards police officers as a whole is nothing more than ignorance and buying into hype.
Brinsley walked the streets looking for the first white officers he could find (ironically, the men he killed – Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, are Asian and Hispanic, respectively), and he approached several people, told them to follow him on Instagram, and watch what he was about to do. These are the actions of an attention-starved maniac, driven by the bright lights of internet stardom and not some greater purpose. He is a murderer who will be treated by some as a martyr for equal rights.
Being an officer in the United States is an incredibly difficult job, and these are men and women to be respected, not treated like dirt and scum – after all, very few career choices garner such hate on a day-to-day basis. To say that every cop is good or bad, racist or fair, is a generalization that is far too easy to make. The fact that the outlined events above have happened are a reason to respect officers more, not less. How often are officers faced with the choice to use force and decline to? It’s news that they do use force because on a statistical basis given opportunities, it’s rare and tragic when they do.
In the case of Eric Garner, the footage is undeniably horrific. The officers here swarm a man who is upset but not threatening; a father, not a thug. He had minor criminal charges in his past, but nothing violent or generally disruptive – marijuana possession, driving with a suspended license, or in this case, selling untaxed cigarettes. The reaction was in the wrong, and may or may not have been urged on by present racism or prejudices – regardless, it is an isolated incident in a year full of isolated incidents blown to extreme proportion and opinion by social media and the ease of accessibility the internet provides. Garner, Brown, Rice, Gurley, Crawford, Liu, Ramos, and even Brinsley are all names that should be mourned – but will unfortunately be remembered as a rallying cry for what may be more senseless “retaliation” to come.