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Police brutality debate full of false choices

False choices keep getting in our way.

Rage against police brutality or run without reserve to the defense of the cops.

Rage against bias in our criminal justice system or defend the status quo to the hilt.

Express absolute outrage over the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown or dismiss it all as left-wing America-bashing, driven not by real injustice but by the opportunistic Al Sharptons of the world.

False choices all.

EDITORIAL 

And if we wish to harness for the good the street protests now roiling our country, if we hope to emerge from the current unrest a stronger and better nation, we had better abandon those polarizing false choices. We had better rediscover our shared humanity, find common ground and listen to each other. We had better walk down that difficult middle of the road, challenging our own worldview as much as we challenge the next guy’s.

Only there will be found solutions that work. Only there can we quell — with justice on all sides — a level of urban strife unseen in America since the raging days of the 1960s.

New York City is erupting, first over the failure of a grand jury to indict the police officer who put Eric Garner in a chokehold just before his death. And now over Saturday’s ambush of two innocent police officers in Brooklyn, triggered in part by the death this summer of Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and other unarmed black man after other police encounters.

Milwaukee is on edge, many residents furious that local prosecutors chose not to charge a white officer who fatally shot a mentally ill black man.

And Chicago cannot rest easy. The air is charged. On Monday, five teens were sprayed with bullets in Englewood, and now the police must track down this latest stupid shooter. It is a dangerous job to be a cop. And every manhunt, necessarily aggressive, carries a danger of an overreaction.

We can pander, railing against the cops or railing against the protesters, motivated entirely by bald self-promotion. Check out the talk radio and cable TV shows to see who’s got that down to a science.

Or, as we believe New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is struggling to do, we can walk that difficult middle road. We can take a stand against brutality. But we can take a stand just as surely with all those good cops who put their lives on the line.  

Call out the cops, yes. Demand better police practices. Demand justice, not a snow job, from grand juries and prosecutors. Protest loudly and fervently. Does anybody really doubt that a young black man in America has more reason to be wary when encountering a police officer?

But consider as well the impossible job we ask the police to do each day. Consider the dangerous alleys they walk down. Consider the instantaneous decisions they must make for their safety and ours — is that a gun, is that a knife, is he giving up or coming at me?

Mayor de Blasio on Monday asked protesters to stand down until after the two officers slain in Brooklyn are buried. The same request applies to New York police union leaders, who have grotesquely blamed the mayor for contributing to the climate that led to the officer ambush on Saturday.

A pause is just the right call, given all that has happened in New York City. But de Blasio on Monday also defended the rights of protesters, implicitly urging them to begin again after a respectful pause. That too is the right call.

We see no easy answers, as we’ll discuss in an editorial tomorrow.

We see plenty of false choices.