This morning, while drinking my coffee and catching up on the news, there was a blurb I caught about the NYPD now sending recruits to a one act play "Anne & Emmett" by Janet Langhart Cohen (who is the wife of former Secretary of Defense William Cohen). The play is an imaginary conversation that takes place between Anne Frank, who died in a Nazi concentration camp, and Emmett Till, who was killed in Mississippi in 1955.
While I take no issue with the NYPD exploring new methods for better training their recruits, I wonder if putting butts in a seat to watch an imaginary conversation takes away from the real drama unfolding on the streets these recruits will soon be hunting the bad guys on. In fact, many of the quotes surrounding the rationale behind sending these recruits to the play (which I have not seen and am not criticizing) indicate a pretty troubling undercurrent of reasoning (or a lack thereof). I have some words in response to both Cohen and NYPD Commissioner Bratton, who is behind this training concept:
Cohen herself has been quoted in the NY Post as saying:
“I thought, ‘Where better than at the tip of spear of law enforcement, where we African-Americans, in particular, are having so much trouble with excessive force, with police brutality, with disproportionate stop and frisks?'” “They don’t always see us the way they see each other.”
“If the play can reach one man or woman with a badge and a gun, I’m happy. Their training can take them only so far. The body cams will only cover so much. At some point, I’m hoping their humanity will kick in and hopefully this play with revive that humanity.”
Excuse me ma'am, you're hoping "their humanity will kick in"? Since when did police officers become considered by you as "non-human" and how is this not an example of the exact type of bias you claim to be challenging through your play? Further, are you able to offer actual facts on the dealings of police officers with African Americans, excessive force or stop and frisk contacts? Mrs. Cohen, your play may be well written and well performed but your statements and seeming ideology are vacuous of truly humane treatment of police officers.
Adding more ignorant fuel to the fire, in a recent NY Daily News article, NYPD Commissioner Bratton is quoted:
(The play) talks about two societies that not only didn’t protect (Frank and Till) but persecuted them,” Bratton said.
“When I saw the play I was very moved by it. This seems to be a way to show my police recruits the reality of racism and the reality of religious persecution.”
Mr. Bratton, may I suggest you simply tell the stories of these four brave men to your recruits? It can't get any more real...
While you are wanting recruits to attend a play to learn about diversity and understanding an Asian man, an Hispanic man, a white man and a black man have all been gunned down in your city by criminals who don't discriminate based on your criteria. Do you have a play where imaginary police officers discuss how they feel being criticized for nothing but the color and type of their clothing (a uniform)? The bullets that these fine men were met with did not have a stamp on them indicating any creed or color. The question then, sir, is what will you do with that truth? In showing 'Anne and Emmett" to your potential officers, are you insinuating that they are the Nazi and the racist or the criminal? Commissioner, you have an opportunity amidst tragedy to stand boldly and truly lead...please take it.
Commissioner Bratton, permit me to adapt a quote from a drama that actually inspires heroism (Braveheart) in a statement to you: Your title gives you claim to lead the NYPD but men do not follow titles, they follow courage.
The criminals that targeted and/or violently killed these brave men did not do so because these officers didn't understand their racial or religious oppression. They did it because there are those who purport to do evil and there are those that stand in the gap and absorb that same evil for the sake of others that they are keeping safe and sound. In other words, these four heroes: Wenjian Liu, Rafael Ramos, Brian Moore and Randolph Holder did not discriminate against anyone in their community, but yet they were discriminated against. I'm all for education and development in the rank and file of police departments, but shouldn't that education and development be based on reality, sir? Wouldn't the training be more accurate if it helped the recruits deal with the false perceptions perpetuated and permitted by many in the media and politics? Rather than add more pressure to these recruits to navigate lies, could you not boldly lead with nothing but the truth?
May I suggest that your recruits attending the viewing and funeral of Officer Holder in the coming days will far surpass a brief play in learning what kind of character is necessary to serve in their community. Officer Holder laid his life down for the sake of others. Thankfully for the people of New York City, you have more officers who are willing to lay it all on the line despite the pressures from without and within to give up the fight.