“Unfriendly Fire: The Evidence Of Things Denied”

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[Comment: Black Officer Killed By NY's Finest]

Police officer Omar Edwards died in a hail of bullets from the gun of one of New York City’s finest.

He was trying to apprehend someone he saw in his car as he approached it having just completed his work shift. As he gave chase, Andrew Dunton, a fellow officer, shot him to death; firing three times.

Friendly fire they say.

Cops have mistakenly killed fellow officers before. A Black cop has never killed a white one. But time and again Blacks in blue in the line of duty on the New York Police Department have perished at the hands of white cops. In the aftermath of those tragedies we commiserate, contemplate, and agitate—calling for federal investigations.
We reflexively decry racism. 

While we sound the usual alarms, there are new freedom songs we should sing. We must strip away the jargon and get to the essence of the matter. The fact is that this was not friendly fire. That nomenclature stifles analysis. It assists those who maneuver the levers of power to rationalize and suggest that Edwards killed himself.

To be sure the early reports of the investigation—which is yet to be completed—intimated that Edwards turned when Dunton commanded him to stop. This is a procedure the NYPD instituted almost 35 years ago as a result of Black undercover cops being shot by fellow officers. The implication is that his actions caused his demise. But we now know that Dunton shot him in his back.  In 35 years not much has changed.

A critical examination of this incident reveals that in the first instance the New York City Police Department Patrol Guide procedure No.: 203-12, (a) specifically prohibits the use of deadly physical force except when a police officer believes he must protect himself or another person from imminent death or serious physical injury. Consequently it doesn’t really matter if Edwards’ back was turned or if he was in the process of turning. The manual outlines a very high standard. That is where any discussion should begin.

It begs the question of why a four year “veteran” was on the anti-crime squad; a squad that requires at minimum street knowledge, not to mention street smarts. We must demand for Dunton’s and his partners’ memo book entries for the night of the shooting. We must know what they ate and drank, where they stopped, and who they talked to from the beginning of their tour to the time of the incident. What calls did they respond to? The investigation does not begin with Edwards chasing someone he saw rummaging through his car.   

I harbor no particular animus towards Dunton. He is in this predicament even as we hurtle glacially towards a time in America when race won’t matter. The election of Barak Obama gives us all hope. Yet this incident jolts us. It says “not so fast.” Racism is just as alive today as it was on November 3, 2008.

Racism persists in New York. In this city people still perceive a white man running with gun in hand as a police officer; but they presume one of color similarly situated to be up to no good. This mindset explains why minorities were a disproportionate number of the record 170,000 stops of citizens the police made in the first three months of this year.

It causes a court to find no crime in the horrendous killing of Sean Bell, the unarmed young Black man who was to marry on the fateful day. It is responsible for the fate of John Holt, Jr., Desmond Robinson, Bill Capers and others –all of them Black officers shot by white cops.  

Sadly some Black people have inculcated these notions. It is hatred of ourselves. It is what numbs us to the sea of Black faces lined up at the entrance of the criminal courts everyday. It makes us stand mute when police officers publicly call defendants –often Black— “animals,” “mopes,” and worse.

No, this does not make the assumption of Black criminality correct.  For the almighty did not create this sea. These waves are the inevitable result of the machinations of a society’s invidious discrimination for hundreds of years. These folks are grist for the mill.  Unfortunately years of conditioning don’t die with a vote. 

After these incidents the mantra is “more training.”

Training cannot inoculate you against racism. A person imbued with racial stereotypes who aims better, takes cover behind a car, learns negotiation skills or any other training is still ultimately at the mercy of those attitudes, and the public, particularly Blacks, are at his mercy. Indeed he may be more dangerous to the public. 

Racism must be rooted out. It starts in the home around the dinner table, on television and other media. It is fostered in the class room. Here is where the rubber meets the road. Not in the Police Academy. We, all of us, must first acknowledge racism in this city. Then dialogue can begin. White folks have yet to do that. Some Black folks are still lost.

Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor is correct in her assessment that her experiences inform her decisions in a way that a white male judge’s decision may not be. Our leaders ought to heed her counsel. Instead of standing on the periphery of this discussion, name calling or begging for investigations, pick up a shovel. Agitators are necessary but leaders must lead. Otherwise you are like friendly fire: Nomenclature that means nothing.

There are ways to do things Mr. Charles Rangel. You chair the committee with the means. You are leaders of majorities in the corridors of power Mr. Malcolm Smith. You are heads of State, and chairmen of committees-national, state and local Mr. David Paterson. You are comptrollers, city councilmen and those who aspire to be, Mr. Bill Thompson et al.

Omar Edwards’ heroism is a truism.  It’s also a palliative headline. Leave that to the local rags. By all accounts Omar Edwards was a beautiful human being, father, husband and son. Do something more substantial for Mr. Edwards’ widow and children: ACT.

In short to borrow a phrase “we are the leaders we have been waiting for”.

Man up. You have the con.


Mitchell is a Manhattan based criminal defense attorney; he represented the parents of Sean Bell. He can be reached at (212) 619-2800.

Please post your comments directly online or submit them for publication to milton@blackstarnews.com

"Speaking Truth To Empower."


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