All Lives Matter: Why the NYC Cop Killer Does Not Silence The Movement

December 22, 2014  |  

Left Photo: Ismaaiyl Brinsley, Facebook

Right Photo: NYC Protest

By now you have probably seen the news and read the articles on Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the African American man who shot and killed two police officers this Saturday in Brooklyn, New York. Some media outlets have tried to use Brinsley’s actions to say that this is what the movement against police brutality and #BlackLivesMatter could possibly look like. But one man does not represent us all. In times like these we have to remember to not become the thing we hate and not excuse the actions of anyone –  Brown, Black or White.

Brinsley is unfortunately not the first man to murder a cop this year, recall the White couple in Las Vegas who shot and killed two officers just six months ago? They were not made to be the face of how all of White America felt.

I have spoken with many African American men, held them as they shed tears while marching in the streets of NYC and this is certainly not the solution they, we, are looking for and pray for the families of the slain officers.

Ph.D. fellow Kevin Clay recently wrote a piece in the The Root, “Don’t Let Them Make a Cop Killer the Face of the Movement” where he shows why one individual should not and does not represent us all. As parents, he helps us contextualize the media being fed and ways to keep the momentum going not only within ourselves but with our teens and children as well.

The NYPD has taken a “war zone” mentality since the shooting as cop cars can be seen all across Brooklyn. While we move into the holidays, we can’t forget the state we and our children our living in. Clay’s doctorate studies focuses on racial identity and urban youth civic action at Rutgers University.

See what he had to say below:

In the wake of the brutal cop killings there is the potential to use this event to invalidate and disempower the momentum of the current movement for racial justice. Due to Brinsley’s anti-police social media rants, the NYC police union leader is attempting to represent Brinsley’s actions as a reflection of the entire movement and to add credence to the narrative that police are the real victims in urban communities.

Despite the fact that data source after data source reveals that the number of black men killed by police outnumbers Jim Crow era lynchings or the fact that FBI data shows that whites were responsible for most police killings in 2013, the public discourse as it relates to cop on black murderfocuses on the supposed criminality inherent to urban black culture.

The criminal acts of individual blacks continue to be characterized as a cultural problem. Already Brinsley’s actions are being being portrayed in a cultural pathology of urban blacks. You can see this in the picture of Brinsley that the NY Post chose to depict him donning a skullcap and blowing out what is presumably weed smoke. Interestingly though, those who defend the officers responsible for the deaths of Mike Brown, John Crawford, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice reserve no such cultural inscription on white folks or law enforcement.

In the days after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson; some media labeled acts of vandalism carried out by a select few as violent rioting from the black community, however, police firing tear gas canisters in crowds of black mothers and their children received substantially less recognition as the violent culture of law enforcement.

Sensationalized one-dimensional media portrayals in the news and popular culture create common sense logics about violent black men. Black people don’t get to just be individuals. We’re constantly under the white American gaze ready to reduce us to a stereotype.

One of the more damaging stereotypes is of our lack of agency; that we have a cultural proclivity toward maladaptive groupthink. So when Ismaaiyl Brinsley murders two cops or when a rioter emerges from the ranks of black demonstrators it figures appropriately in some minds regarding the “violent” nature of black folks. Brinsley’s action therefore becomes indicative of a larger problem within the black community.

Because no such one-dimensional narrative exists for white folks in the media, the atrocities whites commit are not regarded as problems with white culture. Cop killer Eric Fein, Dark Night killerJames Eagan Holmes and Sandy Hook mass shooter Adam Lanza got to be individuals solely responsible for their own actions and not a part of some racial culture of violence.

In the same way, Brinsley’s actions were not a part of the work that black people around the country are engaged in at this moment to resist racist state violence. Do not make him the face of this movement or of urban America. Give credit to the majority of demonstrators and organizations on the front lines whose resistance is thoughtful and organized, unlike the atrocities carried out by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, or officers Darren Wilson, Daniel Pantaleo and Timothy Loehmann, who shot 12 year old Tamir Rice.

The anger and passion of this movement is justified, yet it still pales in comparison to the passion needed to carry out hundreds of years of anti-black government policies.



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