Earlier this week, a black Muslim radical posted on his Instagram page that he would be "be putting wings on pigs today.” He explained that “they take one of ours...lets take two of theirs." Hours later, he assassinated two police officers.
There is no one to blame for these murderers other than the murderer. He alone is responsible. But in our efforts to prevent future violence – against victims of police brutality, as well as other victims of crime, including murdered men and women in blue who serve and protect our communities – it is important for leaders across the nation to put an end to the gross racialization of our politics, one that seems to see so many issues only in turns of race, and one that places blame based on the color of skin.
Starting with the President of the United States, followed by his Attorney General, the establishment media, African-American members of Congress, and dozens of professional athletes, protest against the loss of black lives has become a cause celeb. To be sure, every death is a tragedy, and every crime – whether committed by a police officer or anyone else – should be prosecuted. But the simple truth is that sometimes police must act in self-defense to protect themselves. It appears that that may well have been what happened in Ferguson, Missouri.
Many of the protesters in Ferguson took to the streets in protest before the facts were known. When the grand jury declined to indict, protests began immediately, well before anyone had a chance to read the evidence that was presented to the grand jury. This sends the message that, regardless of the facts of a case, the police are by their nature dangerous, corrupt, and racist. Inadvertently or not, that attitude creates a wedge between the law enforcement community and the minority communities they serve.
There is no doubt that there are times when police fail to adequately serve African-American communities. When that happens, there is reason for protest. But there is also no doubt that police departments are responsible for saving hundreds, and probably thousands, of black lives every year. Can self-appointed defenders of the African American community Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton say the same?
That service to African-American communities should not be belittled or forgotten.
Consider that in 1990, 2,605 New Yorkers were murdered. But after Mayor Giuliani and his police commissioners instituted enhanced law enforcement tactics – the same tactics that are under attack today – the average number of New Yorkers murdered per year rarely fell by 70 percent. That is nearly 2,000 lives saved every year in just one American city, thanks in large part to improved policing.
Before the past twenty years of enhanced policing, African-Americans and Hispanics constituted the overwhelming majority of murder victims, and when the enhanced police reforms (like the broken windows strategy) made by Giuliani and kept in place by his successor drove the murder rate down by over 70 percent, the biggest beneficiaries of the enhanced law enforcement tactics were African-Americans and Hispanics. I celebrate the fact that there are thousands of my fellow Americans, including thousands of my fellow African-Americans, alive today because of this reduction in the crime rate.
This history raises several questions that those opposed to enhanced police tactics should consider before their next protest. What happens if the Obama Justice Department's "reforms" against police backfire by handicapping the law enforcement community? Who would that hurt the most?
There are approximately 130 African-American deaths each year at the hands of police. Some of them are not in self-defense and should most certainly be condemned and prosecuted. But while we are working to prevent similar deaths in the future, let’s not increase the likelihood that ten, twenty, or thirty times that many citizens, many of them men and women of color, will be victims of violent crime that has been successfully reduced and deterred by the enhanced police tactics of the past twenty years.