It’s easy to be discouraged by what we’ve seen happen around us in the United States, and on the world scene, since Catholic New York’s last issue was published two weeks ago.
Since then, we’ve seen shooting deaths in Baton Rouge, La., and Minnesota of young black men who had been stopped by police officers. Also, a subsequent protest march in Dallas at which five police officers were killed and seven others injured by a lone gunman, who was blown up by a police robot at the scene. And then just this past Sunday, another vengeful madman in Baton Rouge mows down three more police officers and injures several others.
Sandwiched in between were the killings of 84 people in Nice, France, trampled to death as they celebrated Bastille Day by a man using a rented truck as a lethal weapon in the latest manifestation of terrorist tactics.
Seemingly every hour, we are buffeted with a new development, a new wrinkle, a new something by news reporters, protesters on one side or another, and instant pundits on Facebook and other social media. Honestly, it is almost too much to keep track of, and a little too daunting for many to ponder.
When we pull back from the brink just a bit, a different picture emerges than the one presented in the popular media. Here in New York, we’ve had our share of protests over the past couple of years. We’re not living in Shangri La, after all.
Yet, as we look at the police force in New York City, we see one that looks more and more like the citizenry of the cosmopolitan city it patrols. In recent years, more than half of the members of the graduating classes of new officers have been members of minority groups. That helps.
Another set of numbers offers further proof that police here do their jobs well. Last week, statistics showed that the murder rate in the Big Apple is down yet again, and on a pace to finish the year with a figure in the low 300s.
Recognizing that the number represents real people, it can never be low enough. But those of us who have lived or worked here for some time realize what a different place New York is from the late 1980s and early 1990s when that rate surged past 2,000. I remember being pretty fearful three decades ago when I exited my building in midtown Manhattan after a late-night shift, just hoping to make it to my car or the subway without incident.
Today, that is no longer the case. It’s possible to travel safely by subway or even on foot to different areas of the city without fear, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of police who have brought down the crime rate so dramatically.
People who live or work here know that, or at least they should. The cops do a great job keeping the city safe day to day while working with other law enforcement agencies to track potential terrorist threats.
That doesn’t mean there are no problems. Relationships with the various ethnic and racial groups that make up the city’s populace are fraught with potential pitfalls. There have been missteps, even big ones, along the way. It would be nice to say the dialogue between police and community members is always open-ended and productive, but unfortunately that is not always the case. Both sides have to keep pushing, and at times protesting, to achieve a successful working relationship.
All of us, and that means everyone, have a vested interest in making sure that “thin blue line” holds here in New York and across the nation. The police are, first and foremost, peace officers. Their presence among us helps to keep our streets safe and orderly. We’ve already heard some rumblings about police forces in other cities pulling back to secure the safety of their own in the aftermath of the latest attacks on police.
As Christians, we are supposed to be people of hope. Even when times are tough, we are not supposed to give in to despair. We are supposed to bring that hope into our dealings with others.
Cardinal Dolan, in his homily at a July 10 Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, gave good advice when he called on police and communities across the city and nation to check with our Creator and “listen to his instructions for repair.”
Everyone knows that the first rule of being a good listener is that you have to stop talking. Pray that our police and communities will come together and be united for the common good of all.