The execution of two police officers in Brooklyn left me with two haunting images: The first is the protesters in Manhattan on Saturday, Dec. 13, chanting, “What do we want? Dead Cops.” The second is of officers Wen Jian Liu and Rafael Ramos struggling to exit the patrol car after being shot and grabbing their wounds.
They were police officers and spouses. Ramos was a father.
Officers Rafael Ramos and Wen Jian Liu died while working in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. The families will forever bear the memories of grief every day of their lives. They were cops. They were people.
I am the daughter of a New York City police officer, Leonard Lee, who worked in precincts in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the 122 Precinct on Staten Island in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I’m sure the families of these two men were proud that they chose to wear the uniform just as I was proud of my father.
Visit to her classroom
I remember when my second grade teacher asked him to come and talk to my peers at PS 30 in Westerleigh. It was the late 1960s, the height of anti-police sentiment in America. But in that classroom, my father sat in full uniform and showed us his badge. His smile was broad and inviting.
He told us about staying safe in the world. The whole room dissolved away as I watched him, immensely proud of this man who was my protector. After his presentation. we took a field trip to the 122nd Precinct station house for a tour that ended with all the children behind bars as a joke. I was the only one who refused to enter the cell.
Pained by protesters’ chants
In fact, when I graduated college, a student speaker on graduation day quoted a philosopher and proudly called upon us to “Kill the policeman,” as my father sat in the audience. It was my graduation day and I felt bad for my father. But, he had a sense of humor, and after the student’s speech. he said ironically, “That kid’s a real William F. Buckley, isn’t he?” Then he laughed.
I have always tried to ignore the call for dead cops.
I didn’t ignore Eric Garner‘s last moments on Earth on the street in Tompkinsville on Staten Island. I watched the YouTube video of his arrest many times. I watched Mr. Garner hit the ground. I heard his plea for breath. I thought of his children, now fatherless.
Esaw Garner, Eric Garner’s wife, spoke honest words in an interview that were healing for me. She said, “I don’t even feel like it’s a black and white thing, honestly.”
The power of honesty
This woman, in her grief, had the power to heal my pain with her honest words.
Officer Ramos’s son Jaden wrote a Facebook message that echoes the feelings of children of cops, “It’s horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer.”
There is a third image I am left with that doesn’t haunt me: The photo of the New York City police officers standing in salute as the ambulances passed carrying the bodies of Wen Jian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
The officers were of diverse races. There were no words spoken.
This is the America I love. I look at this image and feel that pride well up in me, the same pride that I felt when I watched my father in my classroom.
I have struggled during my life being a policeman’s daughter because of the hatred directed at police. Hearing “Kill the cops” hits home for me.
Yes, I think the protesters’ chants of “Kill the Cops” contributed to the deaths of these officers. New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said, “It’s quite apparent, quite obvious, that the targeting of these two police officers was a direct spinoff of this issue of these demonstrations.”
I think Mayor de Blasio needed to loudly and unequivocally condemn the chant; after all, he is the mayor for all the people. When people say, “Kill the cops,” they are also saying, “Kill the people.”
Images via Jennifer Lee, with permission.