The murder of two New York City police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, is a crime of stunning barbarity. Coming after months of tension between local municipalities and protesters, it threatens to reduce a much-needed conversation over police-community relations to a simple, and simplistic, formula: Are you pro-police or pro-criminal?
Indeed, some of the protests following the Ferguson and Staten Island grand jury decisions have crossed a line, demonizing police and devaluing the dangerous and necessary work performed by thousands of police officers with integrity, courage, and restraint. At the same time, the protests have featured thousands of law-abiding citizens who are calling for — and, in the case of the many rabbis who have joined the demonstrations, praying for — a better relationship between police and citizens and the end of the racial stereotyping that continues to plague the streets and sow distrust.
Politicians and activists who demonize either side in this debate are not interested in what is needed most: a real conversation and process whereby the concerns of people of color are addressed, and police forces are urged to strive for diversity. Police should not be the “targets” of this process, but participants and facilitators.
NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered sound advice when he called for a “cooling-off period.” Said Cuomo: “This is a holy week, and I think we should take this as a period of reflection and calm and peace and unity. Let’s grieve with Eric Garner’s family. Let’s grieve with the Ramos family. Let’s grieve with the Liu family. And then we can move on and have a rational, sober conversation about what we have learned and what changes we need to make.”
Or as Rabbi Shai Held of New York’s Mechon Hadar put it, “What we need as a country is healing and renewed commitment to justice and a vision of the common good.” That holds true on all sides of the “thin blue line.”