Mike Stables said he doesn't know anyone serving in law enforcement, but still felt compelled to travel to New York from Denver, Colorado to attend last night's "Pro-Cop Rally" in front of City Hall. Stables even sold t-shirts marked with the phrase, "I Can Breathe" to a few demonstrators. "It's not a divisive effort at all," he said, insisting that his goal was to "bring communities together." Asked why he would design a t-shirt with a perversion of the phrase uttered nine times by a dying man who was choked by an NYPD officer, Stables replied, "Lebron has a worldwide podium and he exercises that and does it in a very eloquent fashion, but I think we need to also perhaps garner some attention, no pun intended."
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and the police unions had discouraged their officers from attending the rally, which claimed the hashtag #BlueLivesMatter. Roughly fifty people showed up. When tens of thousands of people are marching in the streets under the banner of justice, it seems like a bad time to publicly proclaim your faith in the status quo.
"Get a job, for Christssake," Carmen Rios shouted at a group of counter-protesters holding signs bearing Eric Garner's name. "He resisted arrest, and he had asthma, it's his problem. He was doing something illegal. Isn't he breaking the law? Why is that so difficult to understand?"
Rios, who said she was born in Chelsea, where she still lives, scoffed at the notion that blacks are treated differently under the law than whites.
"I got a brother who got arrested all the time, and he got arrested just for stealing a car, and he was incarcerated many times," she pointed out. A man who was standing with the pro-police protesters interjected, "Everybody has that brother, I've got a brother like that too!"
The NYPD seemed prepared for the inevitable confrontation between the pro-police contingent and #BlackLivesMatter protesters, separating the groups with barricades, and restricting access to the pro-police side to true believers and press, though some counterprotesters found their way through.
The barricades allowed the parties to scream at each other with abandon, while stone-faced NYPD Community Affairs officers wiped spittle from their jackets.
"Fuck the police!" one black protester shouted.
"Why don't you get a job and get off welfare?" a pro-police demonstrator responded.
"Where's your badge?" one woman asked a man on the police side.
"It's in my pocket!" the man replied.
"Why don't you take it out?"
"I don't have to, I'm not on duty, bitch!"
Several times, it seemed the sides might come to blows.
"My boss told me to behave myself tonight," said Scott, a police officer who works in Connecticut.
"The people who are saying bad things are never in that situation," he said of those who question the Garner and Brown decisions. "They have no idea what it's like to make a decision that quick." He added that he was comfortable with both those decisions. "Just like they came to the findings of O.J. being not guilty."
Ulysses Garcia came the closest to having a civil conversation with the counterprotesters. "Once upon a time, I used to say 'Fuck the police' too, but then I grew up, I got out of my teens," he explained. Garcia, who grew up in Yonkers and now lives in Park Slope, said he and his family had been stopped by the police, but that stopping him was part of their job.
"Eric Garner was selling loosies. If a cop's boss would have walked by and saw the cop walk by Eric Garner, the cop's boss would have said, why aren't you stopping him? You looking to lose your job? Do your job. So he was just doing his job."
Garcia added, "It's scary that people are like, against cops. Because you know what would happen if there were no cops? The Purge! You ever seen the movie The Purge? The Purge would happen."
A few blocks away from the "Pro-Cop Rally," a few dozen people gathered in front of the Justice Department's headquarters to demand that federal prosecutors indict Richard Haste, the NYPD officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham in 2012.
Graham, who was unarmed, was pursued by the NYPD into his Bronx home, where he was fatally shot as he dumped a small amount of marijuana into the toilet.
A Bronx judge dismissed the indictment against Haste on a technicality. Another grand jury declined to indict Haste. The NYPD changed their use-of-force policy after Graham's death.
"My nephew was killed in his bathroom, in front of his brother, six years old, and his grandmother, who they held in a police precinct in the Bronx for seven and a half hours without her medication," Andrea Phillips said as she held a sign bearing Graham's picture. "We're never going to get to see him get married, have kids, and that's the pain we live with. Every. Single. Day."
Phillips said she was "insulted" by the "Pro-Cop Rally" across the street.
"Yes, your job is dangerous, but there is a way in which you can do your job, so it can be more effective than killing innocent people."
S. Pinnock, who was at the Graham protest with her friend Emnet Gammada, said the pro-police protesters "completely misunderstand" their aims.
"They're not the ones being policed and treated like this, and they've internalized these views, that black people are to be feared, that we are always suspect," Pinnock said. "If they watch the news that says, 'Mike Brown stole cigarettes,' oh, he deserved to die."
Gammada wondered, "Ramarley was at home, what was his wrongdoing? Being followed?"
"And Obama is president," Pinnock sighed. "So clearly there couldn't be any problems."