Back in July 2009, the Cambridge Police Department found itself in the media spotlight when then-President Barack Obama commented on the disorderly conduct arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.
In what many law-enforcement members regard as the first salvo in the modern-day war against police, the most powerful man on the planet questioned “what role race played in that arrest” while concluding “the Cambridge police acted stupidly.”
For his part, the arresting officer, Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley, retorted that Obama was “way off base wading into a local issue without knowing all the facts.” After the facts came out that Sgt. Crowley acted properly in response to Gates’ non-compliance and Obama was criticized for his incendiary remarks, the president said he wished it could be a ”teachable moment” and held the infamous beer summit with the professor and police sergeant.
Still heaping blame
Obama’s legacy lives on today as Cambridge is again in the spotlight because elected leaders are acting stupidly about a fatal officer-involved shooting.
On Jan. 4, Cambridge police responded to a 911 call of a troubled man armed with a machete. Shirtless in the middle of a New England winter, Sayed Faisal jumped through a window and was seen cutting himself with the glass shards and a Kukri machete, a roughly 18-inch weapon commonly used by the Nepali military.
Responding officers followed Faisal for five blocks as they pleaded with him to drop the weapon. Notably, the week before, two Long Island police officers were stabbed and almost killed when they tried to de-escalate instead of immediately shoot a mentally distressed man that threatened them with a knife following a 911 call.
When Faisal turned on the officers while menacingly brandishing the machete at them, an officer deployed a less-than-lethal “sponge round” at him. Undeterred, Faisal continued advancing with the machete toward the officers, one of whom reasonably feared for his life and shot Faisal multiple times until his threat was stopped.
Instead of sticking to the facts and consoling their constituents as would be appropriate, some Cambridge officials are inciting their community by pushing allegations of racism and police brutality.
Cambridge City Councillor, Burhan Azeem posted on Twitter about the shooting the next day, writing that “people in the US (prominently black and brown) die in interactions with police officers 3-10 times more than the other countries.”
Activist and Cambridge City Councillor Quinton Y. Zondervan tweeted, “We must reject the racist system of policing that is failing our young people,” likening the shooting to “the kind of racist, senseless killing that we read about in places like Ferguson.”
Such allegations have contributed to protests, calls for change, and local student newspaper The Harvard Crimson to write, “the shooting of Faisal, a Bangladeshi American, has spiked concerns of racism, Islamophobia, and police brutality throughout Cambridge.”
Massachusetts state Rep. Mike Connolly, a proud progressive Democrat and Democratic Socialists of America member, tweeted that he “will continue demanding answers, justice, and systemic change” and “our community is rightfully demanding accountability and systemic change.”
The outrage vs. the facts
To give context to how baseless these inflammatory attacks and calls for systemic change are, including that by Councillor Zondervan for the police department to “disarm immediately, or disband,” Cambridge Police had not had a fatal officer-involved shooting in more than 20 years.
Furthermore, the officer involved in this shooting has been honorably serving the Cambridge community for the past eight years without a single civilian complaint. In other words, extrapolating from the numbers in their 2021 Crime Report, for more than two decades the 288-strong department handled more than 2.25 million calls for service, 50,000 crimes and millions more traffic stops and civilian interactions while protecting the residents of Cambridge without a single fatal police shooting.
But now because of one justified but deadly incident involving an emotionally disturbed man armed with a machete, select leaders are calling the police racist and demanding the department be systemically changed or disarmed?
Rather than blame a department whose well-trained officers acted properly given the threat, activist councilors should be demanding to know what happened to make an otherwise healthy, law-abiding and well-mannered young man suddenly become so mentally distraught and violent? Did he inadvertently take some kind of drug that caused this episode?
Considering the circumstances, those are smart questions to ask. Instead citizens continue to be represented by politicians acting stupidly with cookie-cutter claims of racism.
Such false claims about the Michael Brown shooting led to the ambush murders of NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. Similar lies about the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile shootings were followed by the assassinations of four Baton Rouge-area officers and five Dallas police officers.
When elected officials irresponsibly portray police as racist murderers, there are serious consequences. Besides these violent attacks upon the police, the lies have led to drastic changes in the criminal-justice system resulting in increased victimization of our citizens.
If Americans want serious leaders who support the rule of law and don’t act stupidly, they need to start voting smartly.
Mike Simonelli was an active police officer in New York for 23 years. His book in policing can be found at http://www.jdfinformation.com.
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