NYPD ambush attack: Why police accuse mayor of having 'blood' on his hands

The 'assassination' of two NYPD cops Saturday comes as the city is rife with tension. Police officials say Mayor Bill de Blasio set the tone for the shootings by siding with protesters in the Eric Garner case.

Stephanie Keith/Reuters
Police officers line the route as vehicles containing the bodies of the two New York Police officers who were fatally shot drive by in the Brooklyn borough of New York Saturday. A gunman ambushed two New York City police officers on Saturday and then killed himself.

The violence that led to the deaths of two New York police officers Saturday was blind.

At 2:47 p.m., authorities say, a young black man angry at the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner stepped onto a Brooklyn street corner to take his revenge. The men he killed were Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos – a man who had just been married two months before, and father of two described by a friend as "an amazing man. He was the best father and husband and friend."

Amid a debate over police diversity, these two were an Asian and a Latino. Amid a debate over police brutality, these two were eating lunch, according to one report.

The man connected to the Saturday's attacks, Ismaayil Brinsley, shot his girlfriend in the stomach earlier in the day, police say, and had warrants in Atlanta for probation violations related to theft, firearm possession, and criminal property damage charges. He committed suicide Saturday when police cornered him.

Calling the shootings an "assassination," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said: "It is an attack on all of us."

But in the hours after the shooting, the tensions that have increasingly presented a picture of a New York divided rose to the surface.

As Mayor de Blasio approached the podium to make his statement Saturday, cops turned their backs to him. After de Blasio spoke, police union chief Pat Lynch declared: "There's blood on many hands tonight. That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the Office of the Mayor."

The mayor, many police officials say, has betrayed them. He has not stood beside them as protesters have taken to the streets since the grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in Mr. Garner's death by a chokehold. Worse, the mayor said in a press conference after the Garner grand jury decision that he has told his biracial son to "take special care" during police encounters.

Some police had circulated a petition to request that de Blasio not come to their funeral if they were killed in the line of duty. 

Meanwhile, outside the hospital where the two cops had been brought Saturday, one Daily Beast reporter heard expletives yelled at the police and talked to a local man who said that some people were saying, "Serves them right because you mistreat people!"

The emotions in New York are raw.

Police are saying, "I told you so."

"Unfortunately, I don't believe anyone connected to law enforcement is surprised this happened," Gary McLhinney, a negotiator for police unions, told The Washington Post. "When our leaders make statements that encourage lawlessness and demean an entire profession, this is the result."

Supporters have started a #BlueLivesMatter hashtag, playing off the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag that sprung from the Brown case in Ferguson, Mo. Others started a New York counterprotest, wearing T-shirts that read "I can breathe" – playing off the "I can't breathe" T-shirts that have become a symbol of pro-Garner protests.

But for one resident of the Brooklyn community where Saturday's tragedy happened, choosing between support for the police and support for the protests was a false choice.

"Now we have two families that's missing someone from the holidays," she told New York's WABC-TV. "Where's your sense of humanity?"

The Rev. Al Sharpton, the man at the center of the Garner and Brown protests, who many police supporters see as an irresponsible rabble-rouser, said on Saturday: "Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases."

Between the visceral points of concern for police violence and concern for police safety are many difficult questions – honest questions about latent racism, and honest questions about out-of-control violence in some communities. Nineteenth-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass said people who wished to reach racial harmony without asking tough questions are "people who want crops without plowing the ground."

Officers Liu and Ramos were not the face of that debate. They had nothing to do with Brown or Garner or the tide of events into which they were eventually swept.

But perhaps now they will be that face.

If Garner and Brown came to symbolize to a part of America the need to address the sometimes-dehumanizing way in which blacks are viewed, then perhaps Liu and Ramos will come symbolize what police have done right, and how much they are called to sacrifice to keep others safe.

Said some Twitter users, perhaps it's not #BlackLivesMatter or #BlueLivesMatter, but both.

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