Their Words: Civil Rights and Police Leaders Reflect on a Week of Killings

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20160708_165120It has been a nightmare week of violence, from Baton Rouge to Minnesota to Dallas (not to mention Dhaka and Baghdad). Today, many leaders and thinkers tried to address the scope of the domestic carnage that claimed two black lives and killed five cops. Some were thoughtful, while others must have spoken without thinking at all.

In the past hour two press bulletins came across the wire containing messages from the head of One Hundred Black Men, Inc. of New York and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. They’re very different messages. Both are worth reading.

Michael Garner’s note on behalf One Hundred Black Men focuses first on the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and places them in a larger pattern of police violence, before condemning at length the slayings in Texas last night. Garner also notes the role of guns in the bloodshed.

Memorial Fund President Craig W. Floyd has a different focus. He draws attention to what he says has been a spate of ambush attacks on cops, and he alludes to the Sterling and Castile shootings only briefly, and as if they are isolated incidents.

That both statements possess a sobriety reflecting the magnitude of our ongoing tragedy offers a sliver of hope. Or maybe something slightly thinner than a sliver. If that.

Statement by Michael J. Garner, President of One Hundred Black Men, Inc. of New York:

One Hundred Black Men, Inc., is deeply disturbed by the homicides of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police officers. Our hearts and prayers are with their families. This tragedy has unfortunately become commonplace in our society, and the promotion of body cams on police officers has not become the panacea many hoped would provide restraint and accountability by law enforcement. Some of our nation’s most notorious white criminals in history have been delivered safely by police to courtrooms to exercise their constitutional rights. However, too many accused Black men never make this journey. We are struck down and strangled on site, even after already being restrained.

History teaches us that in the coming weeks and months, we can unfortunately expect more Black men to be shot and killed by police under questionable circumstances. We are not prey. We are engineers and architects who build cities, we are businessmen who serve communities, we are doctors who heal the sick, clergy who save souls, and mentors who inspire children. We are fathers, husbands and sons. We are One Hundred Black Men, and Black Lives Matter.

As an organization born out of an incident involving police misconduct more than fifty years ago, we believe in the collective power of Black men standing together to address injustice. Some of these men are law enforcement officials themselves, who exemplify the noblest efforts to protect and serve.

At the same time, One Hundred Black Men mourn the loss of five police officers in Dallas who were gunned down yesterday in the line of duty during a peaceful march. These sniper-style shootings of Dallas police officers were a “vicious and calculated attack” on law enforcement, and we condemn violence against police officers. The officers, and the injured survivors, have become the latest victims in a national epidemic of gun violence that stains the soul of our great nation. All of us have an absolute right to live safely and be treated with respect, and our hearts and prayers are also with their families.

As we approach the anniversary of the senseless killing of Eric Garner, we, the Founding Chapter of 100 Black Men of America, remain committed to addressing all forms of gun violence that plague our community. However, despite our historical commitment we must acknowledge that over the past half-century in New York and half-millennium in the Americas, justice has not been realized. How long must Black Americans—and all Americans—expect to wait for equal justice?

The new civil rights slogan of our youngest leaders, “Black Lives Matter,” has unique resonance in its defiance of dehumanization. It not only serves as a call for transparency, constitutional law enforcement, and fairness in police reform, but also demands unapologetically that we be recognized for our beauty and humanity.

One Hundred Black Men supports the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights division taking over the investigation in Baton Rouge to increase accountability, and we will continue to support state and federal legislators looking to pass criminal justice reforms that increase accountability for the abuse of police powers. We will also work with various law enforcement agencies, local officials, and our communities to end gun violence, and ensure that racial justice and civil rights remain at the forefront of political discourse.

Statement from Memorial Fund President Craig W. Floyd:

As dawn broke over our country this morning, we were left to witness the aftermath of a horrific tragedy. Last night, in a matter of hours, a peaceful protest in the streets of Dallas turned into one of the deadliest days in our nation’s law enforcement history.

That peace was shattered when law enforcement officers were ambushed while protecting the First Amendment rights of their fellow citizens. Twelve officers were shot, five of whom lost their lives, in the deadliest day for law enforcement since 72 officers died on 9/11. The Dallas (TX) Police Department lost four officers, while the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Police Department lost one. Sadly, the State of Texas has already lost ten officers this year so far, more than twice as many line of duty deaths as any other state in the country.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund honors law enforcement officers who die in the line of duty. So it is only natural that we, like all Americans, are deeply saddened about yesterday’s events. It is truly a dark day for law enforcement. However, much more troubling is the disturbing trend of officers being killed in ambush attacks, like the one in Dallas last night. Already this year, eleven officers have been killed in ambush attacks, and another 23 officers were gunned down similarly in 2014-2015.

These five officers who gave their lives last night are the same officers we see walking down our streets, helping our communities, and who we immediately call upon when we face danger. These are the officers who go without a thank you on a day-to-day basis.

Our country must do more to protect our law enforcement officers. While we cannot turn a blind eye to the recent events in Louisiana and Minneapolis, we must allow the justice system to run its course. We must also call upon the media, our elected officials, and our community leaders, along with every law-abiding citizen in this country, to come together in partnership to create communities where trust can be found among each other. This should be our collective solemn obligation as a way to honor the service and sacrifice of the five fallen law enforcement heroes from Dallas.