EDITORIAL: What can we do now?

WE WERE ON THE SUBWAY in midtown Manhattan about the same time late Saturday morning that police say Ismaaiyl Brinsley was getting on another train nearby, heading to Brooklyn, where he murdered two New York City police officers before fatally shooting himself.

There wasn’t much memorable about our ride except when our daughter, standing as the subway car left the station, said something to her mother about being pregnant and a young man, he was black, stood up without hesitation and offered her his seat. The three of us smiled and thanked him. The train was crowded; it was no big thing.

The news that evening of what Mr. Brinsley had done felt like a crime next door, though it happened in Brooklyn, miles from where we were staying. As police learn more about the shooter, his criminal history and whether he had some form of mental illness, and it may become clearer why he acted on the warped views he expressed online before the murders. That investigation has to be done, though it’s hard right now to see how knowledge of his history will cushion the grief for the families and colleagues of the slain officers or lead to steps that prevent the recurrence of such tragedies.

The natural, often misleading reaction is to look for people to blame, starting with prominent people easily accused of inciting, condoning or otherwise contributing to these violent crimes. That’s one way human beings cope with loss. It can happen when folks caught up in the emotion of the moment try to impose meaning on their feelings. This emotional turmoil also attracts cynics who exploit public anguish for their own purposes.

The search for equivalence leads nowhere as well. It explains nothing to say that this crime is worse than–or not as bad as–some other terrible acts. Faith and religion address the spiritual aspects of these issues. That’s not the turf of a community newspaper. But looking to civil society for practical lessons on ways to cope with our most vexing problems is something newspapers should do.

A week before NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were murdered there was a peaceful demonstration on the green in the Village of Chatham, where speakers called for non-violent action to prevent more incidents that led to the deaths of unarmed black men and one black child caused by police officers in several different cities. The protesters then marched peacefully through the village with no visible police presence and no clashes.

That was on Sunday afternoon. The following morning the only evidence of the demonstration was a small paper sign mounted on a stick and attached to the Stop sign on the green. The paper sign had a photo of a black male and a few words, possibly the last ones spoken by New York City resident Eric Garner: “I can’t breathe.”

A white man in work clothes removed the sign. He carried it to his pickup and threw it into the back. He was scowling. He left before I could ask him whether he was upset by the message or because someone had left the sign for others to clean up. He’d made his personal statement. He had no reason to fear any consequences.

We don’t solve the world’s problems here in Columbia County. We’re not very diverse. As neighbors, we have strong and conflicting views. But the record of the last year suggests we still find ways to get things done without waiting for disaster to bring us to our senses. It’s not always the headlines that capture these stories. The smattering of bipartisan support for small infrastructure upgrades doesn’t make compelling reading, but it does supply some of us with clean water, road and bridge repairs and more efficient upgrades to airport safety; there are school projects like the Bridge Academy in Hudson, which rescues kids at risk; the hospital Emergency Department has new services for children on the autism spectrum; the preservation of farmland slowly advances and an agreement is near to reroute one power line rather than disrupt local communities.

None of this is a reason to be smug. There’s so much to do. We might accomplish more if we would take time to appreciate our good fortune to live in this beautiful, peaceful place and remind ourselves of the responsibility we have to resolve our problems by working together. It’s the best option available. Probably the only one. Have a happy, safe 2015.

 

 

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