When the Rev. Al Sharpton eulogizes Police Officer Randolph Holder in Queens Wednesday, will he be able to bring peace not just to the bereaved but to the city?
Call it what it is: New York City faces a new reckoning with the racial divide.
The deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Missouri in 2014 unleashed a wave of activism against police brutality. Throughout, the NYPD has felt threatened by a deepening anti-police mood. When two NYPD officers were killed by a mentally disturbed man from Baltimore, some blamed anti-police sentiment. Politicians toned down their rhetoric, but protests continued, as did incidents of police brutality. Last week, Officer Holder was shot in the head apprehending a career criminal. Some in law enforcement -- most recently FBI director James Comey -- speak of an uncharted, anecdotal "Ferguson effect," and rises in violent crime linked to Black Lives Matter-style protests. Once again a young man's death -- Holder was 33 -- threatens to be lost in the uproar.
Enter Sharpton. The longtime civil rights activist and police antagonist has been called an opportunist, a government informant, a talking head, a civil rights leader, a fraud, a savior, a walking controversy. He has been to some extent left behind by younger protesters. He can hardly be mistaken for a cop's best friend.
But the family of the slain officer asked him to speak. The city's eyes and ears will be on him. Will he be able to take or urge us to a higher place?
Will Sharpton be able to get beyond the usual shouting? Just this weekend when filmmaker Quentin Tarantino called cops who kill civilians "murderers," the PBA demanded a boycott of this "purveyor of degeneracy."
Will Sharpton be able to show that police and minority communities must not be antagonists? Will he do more than salvage his own brand?
As he speaks to an audience of police, we hope that the reverend will be able to reach them, and us. And we hope no officers turn their backs. We can all do with more listening. That's the best way to honor Holder's memory.