Chief-Leader

July 25, 2016: 6:00 p.m.


How Not to Protest

By RICHARD STEIER

The problem with leaderless protest groups was on display last week during a demonstration inside the headquarters of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association where two groups, Black Youth Project 100 and the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, conducted a sit-in in the building’s lobby until police arrested some of the protesters.

One of the demonstrators stated, “We are here today to demand three things: disband the PBA, fire Officer Isaac [a cop who has been placed on modified duty following his fatally shooting another man who confronted him during a road-rage incident in Brooklyn earlier this month], defund the police and fund black futures.” (By our count, that’s four things, but let’s put that aside for the moment.)

Another protester claimed that money now spent on police should instead go to affordable housing, improved education and mental-health resources in black communities, arguing, “It has never been proven that cops keep communities safe.”

And the organizing chair for BYP 100, Rahel Mekdim Teka, said on the group’s website that cops were using the recent spate of fatal shootings of law-enforcement officers “to manipulate all of us into believing that they are at risk. They are not at risk. Police officers are the threat.”

How does one counter statements that range from the specious to the ridiculous to the obnoxious? Such remarks are particularly mystifying, as well as off-putting, at a time when police have good reason for heightened concern about their safety in the wake of the murder of five officers in Dallas by a crazed gunman and three more in Baton Rouge, La. by another unhinged man within a 10-day period earlier this month.

Some of the protesters have legitimate grievances about the use of deadly force by cops in questionable circumstances; such cases are what spawned the Black Lives Matter movement, something that was not—as Rudy Giuliani so mindlessly put it—an “inherently racist” concept but an understandable response to the too-frequent cases in which black people lost their lives due to police overreactions, given the situations involved.

But the rhetoric at some rallies organized by Black Lives Matter seems not about winning hearts and minds to its cause but rather about venting among those already signed on. As Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said earlier this month, “We need to see police not as racists and bigots and murderers. Unfortunately some are. And we’ll find them and deal with them.”

The overwhelming majority of cops who do a difficult job conscientiously and without prejudice should not bear the burden of being lumped together with those who act on their prejudices or—as is the case at least as often in fatal confrontations—lose their cool with deadly consequences.

President Obama, in shining contrast with speakers at the Republican National Convention last week including Donald Trump and Mr. Giuliani, understands both sides of the police/protesters divide. In a speech he made at a memorial in Dallas, he spoke directly to protesters who engage in incendiary anti-cop rhetoric by stating, “You know how dangerous some of the communities where these police officers serve are. And you pretend as if there’s no context.”

The advent of Black Lives Matter offered a voice to those frustrated by what they saw as indifference among some in law enforcement to the use of extreme force to deal with people of color in circumstances where it didn’t seem to be warranted. But asking for your grievances to be heard and acted upon at the same time that some protesters are carrying signs speaking of “Killer Cops” and others are chanting for police lives to be taken is unlikely to produce positive action.

As Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins told this newspaper’s Mark Toor last week, “By killing police officers, you’re killing the country. You’re not making a statement, you’re committing murder.”

PBA President Pat Lynch called the sit-in at the union’s headquarters “a display of misdirected and misinformed anger that should have been pointed at City Hall, not the police officers who were on hand to protect the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights. We have always protected that right, and we always will, provided it is done peacefully and legally.”

The legitimate anger some protesters feel toward the cops needs to be channeled more productively if they hope to produce the changes they’re advocating.

For insight into how to do it in a militant way without the hate-filled rhetoric and disrespect, they would do well to look to the civil-rights movement of the 1960s and its leaders, foremost among them Dr. Martin Luther King. Those protesters endured far worse treatment at the hands of police than those out in the streets today, but they showed both the intelligence and the forbearance to be insistent without looking to incite, even when given ample provocation to lash back.

And, it should be obvious, cops and their bosses are far more inclined to listen than their ancestors a half-century ago if respect, rather than contempt, is flowing from the other side of the barricades.