When I first heard about the shooting death of Omar J. Edwards, a 25 year old African American police officer, it was in the context of NYC giving him a hero’s burial. As I read on in the article, it became clear that Edwards had been shot by fellow officers and that, as expected, very little was going to be done to reprimand them or otherwise raise their awareness. Unlike many racially tinged police shootings in which minor crimes, like traffic violations and drug possession (you know like having a joint in your car, and while this blog is anti-drug let’s get real), and non-crimes like standing at the bus stop, unlocking the door to one’s house, coming outside to see who just ran through your lawn, being homeless, or going to your own bachelor party, Edwards had a drawn gun and this will likely be the way the police avoid prosecution or misconduct charges. He was a plain-clothes officer who was chasing someone who had broken into his car. When the rest of the police pulled up, Edwards approached them, likely to explain where he had last seen the thief, and they, seeing a black man w/ a gun, opened fire. He was a husband and a father, and now he was dead. Omar J Edwards was just 25 years old.
I had to stop reading. I had to put the article away. I’m not shocked by what happened. It happens all the time. Whether you are part of the thin blue line or you are just a mother without your seatbelt on, if you are black, your day may end with a bullet from “officer friendly.” But what I could not stomach was a police force that prides itself in sticking up for its own, corrupt or otherwise, excusing away the fatal shooting of one of their ranks. If a criminal had killed a cop, the police would have stopped at nothing to find him. When racism (or other oppression) kills a cop, well that’s worth a public apology and media saturated funeral, but you know . . . he was black.
So, obviously I’m still not really in the space to talk about this issue in a way that will be helpful to those readers who are unconvinced about the real-present-day racism in our country or who are inclined to excuse any egregious act by our armed forces, domestic (police) or international (military). And no, critiquing a longstanding pattern of unequal and often unfair policing based on oppression does not negate nor erase those officers who are not oppressive; rather, refusing to address oppressive policing and hold bigots or bigoted tactics accountable mars the reputation and effectiveness of those who are not guilty. So instead of continuing to talk from a place of disgust, I’m going to point you to an interesting compilation of articles on the shooting of Officer Edwards by “friendly” fire and some astute commentary about it by Latoya from Racialicious, who was guesting @ Postbourgie for this piece.
I want to leave you with this: there have been only two other fatal shootings of a police officers in NYC in the past year (2008-2009). One of these officers was shot while observed fighting with and then sitting on/subduing a homeless man. The other was shot while approaching fellow police officers responding to his 911 call about having been assaulted at a restaurant. Can you guess which officer was a person of color? Erik Hernandez was 24.
- book cover of Williams, Kristian. Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America. South End Press, 2007.