"Anti-Police Brutality" Does Not Mean "Anti-Police"

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

According to published news reports, hours before Ismaaiyl Brinsley shot and killed two NYPD officers, he shot his ex-girlfriend, Shaneka Thompson, in Baltimore. He also stole her iPhone. After shooting her, he boarded a Bolt Bus to New York City, and updated his Instagram account from her phone, vowing to kill cops. Minutes after following through on his threats, he killed himself. In the years before Ismaaiyl Brinsley's name became nationally known, he'd been arrested at least 19 times, imprisoned for two years, and he admitted to having mental health issues.

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In a rush to assign blame and politicize these murders, some very prominent people (a police union chief, an ex-Governor, etc) have blamed Brinsley's act on Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Bill de Blasio, and the hundreds of thousands who have recently protested how our communities are policed. This is, to put it bluntly, some dumb-ass fucking shit. It is also predictable. American history is filled with examples of "things a Black person has done" being blamed on "things Black people are doing." Crimes that have nothing to do with hip-hop are blamed on hip-hop. If a Black kid gets teased for enunciating /a/ sounds, Black people are anti-education. And now, criticism of the police is apparently responsible for the act of an obviously disturbed and violent man.

Ismaaiyla Brinsley was an anomaly. A tragedy whose history and erratic behavior suggest that, if he didn't receive some form of help, he was going to kill somebody. Those somebodies happened to be police officers. His Instagram rants read less like a sane person with a vendetta against cops than a deranged man who could have very easily carried the same animus against postal workers or flight attendants or the Milwaukee Bucks. Treating him as anything more, as an example of something bigger, suggests that this movement is "anti-police" instead of "anti-police brutality" or "anti-racial profiling" or "anti-institutional racism" or "anti feeling scared of instead of protected by the police."

And, as someone who has four family members, three high school classmates, and several friends and acquaintances who are in some capacity of law enforcement, it's insulting.

I want my friends and family who happen to be cops to be safe. I want them to be able to go home at night. I want them to raise their families, retire, and collect their well-earned pensions. I pray for them. I thank them when I get the opportunity, and I appreciate them for doing one of the most difficult jobs you can do. What people like George Pataki and Patrick Lynch and the members of the "I Can Breathe" gang have either failed to realize or realize but don't want to articulate is that "wanting cops to be able to do their jobs" and "wanting cops to be better at their jobs" are not conflicting concepts. You can protest bad policing while also wanting good police to be protected. You can hate what Darren Wilson did while loving your boy for putting his life on the line every day. You can mourn the death of Eric Garner — and denounce who killed him — while mourning the deaths of Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos — and denouncing who killed them. You can cry for Michael Brown's parents while shedding tears for Rafael Ramos' son.

While flipping through the channels last weekend, I heard someone (I forgot who) suggest the protesters want a "war" on police. They had it backwards. The reason why millions are protesting, sitting in, organizing, demonstrating, speaking, writing, reporting, and boycotting is because they believe the police are at war with them, and we want this war to end.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

DISCUSSION

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IcePrincess

I know ismaaiyl brinsley personally. I'll refer to him as Moses in this post, cuz that's the name he went by in real life. He was best friends with my baby dad. When I met him back in '06, I was 25 & he was 19, so he was like a lil brother to me. I've known him for 9 yrs. I used to let him sleep on my floor all the time, cuz he was always basically homeless. Thing about Moses, I never really cared for him. Frankly, he's always been a POS. Sorry to disrespect the dead, but he was. He was always doing grimy sh*t to ppl; you couldn't trust him. Then 1 time in 2010, my BD was in jail, & Moses came by our apartment for something or another, I can't remember. Anywayz, he tried to come on to me & I had to kick him out of the spot. I was so mad. Like the next day, our door gets kicked, apartment burglarized. That's just the type of dude he was, a snake. And that's just one example of many. I always knew he was a bad spirit. Like, his negative vibe was super strong, all the time. It literally radiated off of him. Last time I seen him last year, I told him to his face IDFWY. Anyway, I'm just not all that surprised what he did. He seemed depressed, & he did have a hard life, I'll give him that. He would be homeless a lot & sleep in the bus station or wherever. But still, fuck him yo. It's just creepy, like I can hear his voice in my head saying "Shelly belly!!" My name is Michelle, so that was his nickname for me. This ish here is just crazy. Smh. Sorry to ramble.