The Third Burial Should Be That of Hate

Dear NYPD PBA President Lynch:

Two burials of two New York City Police Officers are two too many. With Officer Ramos laid to rest this weekend, and the memorial service for Officer Liu just awaiting the arrival of family members from China, many of us are numbed by the unfathomable pain we feel for Officer Ramos’ two sons, and Officer Liu’s new wife.

Those of us born in Brooklyn, not far from where these two public servants were assassinated by hate and madness, understand intuitively how difficult it is for flesh-and-blood human beings to put on a uniform each day, and put their own lives, and the comfort of their families, at risk each moment, to protect and serve the rest of us.

When I worked for Mario Cuomo during his first term as Governor, I saw first hand how members of the NYPD, both in uniform and plainclothed, rushed to ensure his safety when a death threat against his life was made. They were prepared, as I was, to take a bullet for the man, as an act of ultimate service.

During and after the 9/11 attacks on our City, those of us living in New York hugged and high-fived police and firefighters for the sacrifices of their brothers and sisters in heroic attempts to rescue nearly 3,000 souls lost to all of us at the hands of hate and madness. For months and years after that, every time I spotted a cop-on-the-beat, I went out of my way to personally thank that specific officer, just for being there. Many New Yorkers did the same.

I felt especially proud and hopeful when a good friend, a person of color, was sworn in as a member of the NYPD, and later, promoted to being an undercover narcotics detective. He was like a son to me, and by extension, the NYPD became like family.

But, as in any family, sometimes things can get a bit excessive. When they do, it’s the duty of other family members and friends to point to some constructive changes in behavior, that benefit everyone. The “Stop & Frisk” program was one of those things that got excessive. I know because another friend of mine, a Harvard-educated person of color who heads a school for disadvantaged youth, was stopped and frisked for only one reason: the color of his bi-racial skin. If he could be suspected of doing something wrong simply by walking on a City street at a reasonable hour, clearly “stop and frisk” had gotten out of control. It was the equivalent of stopping Colin Powell because someone didn’t like his looks.

Any parent of any child with black or brown skin would have been negligent not to warn that child to act especially respectful around Police officers, sworn to protect them. Even as a parent of a white child, I counseled my son to always be respectful with Police officers; Bill deBlasio did the same for his mixed-race son, in the face of growing evidence of young men of color being stopped and questioned for no other reason than their skin tone. The duty to warn is one all parents have to our children—teaching them how to get by in an often confusing, conflicted world.

Recent police/citizen confrontations in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, NY, have inflamed tensions on all sides and complicated the fundamental issues at stake here: issues of human dignity, respect and civility. Yet neither of those events, while each disturbing in its own right, especially on the crucial matter of policing and race, has anything to do with the assassination of NYPD officers Ramos and Liu, which was a lone-wolf act of a madman, blinded by hate, especially toward himself.

After Officers Ramos and Liu are put to rest this week, there ought to be a third burial, of the kind of hatred and madness that killed them. To allow hate to continue to prowl the streets, whether in civilian clothes or in uniform, is to dishonor the lives, and deaths, of these two humane heroes.

Respectfully yours,

Steve Villano

Does ANY Hate Speech violate Facebook’s “Community Standards?”

Facebook Facilitates Hate Speech and Threats of Violence

Just three days after a deranged man in Baltimore boasted on social media that he was going hunting to kill some police officers, Facebook rejected my alert to them about hate speech appearing on a public posting concerning the NYPD assassinations as well as a threat of violence against NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio.

The anti-social, social media writer, expressed quite clearly on a friend’s posting that he hated the “nigga loving” Mayor of NYC, who happens to be married to a Black woman and has bi-racial children. In the same conversation stream, the same writer said that his solution for how to deal with DeBlasio was to “kill him.”

Within a few hours of my reporting to Facebook the writer’s hate speech and threat of physical violence against a specific public official, the faceless Facebook arbiters of social behavior, too busy doing end-of-the-year feel-good-photo displays for everyone, sent me the following canned response:

“Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the comment you reported for containing hate speech or symbols (and a credible threat of violence) and found it doesn’t violate our Community Standards.”

If Facebook doesn’t find the term “Nigga Lover” antithetical to creating a safe and welcoming environment, what terms of hate speech reach that level? If Facebook doesn’t find a flat-out statement of “kill him” directed at the Mayor of New York City—just 72 hours after 2 NYPD Police Officers were assassinated following a social media warning—what constitutes a “credible threat of violence?”

Admittedly, I have zero-tolerance for anti-social behavior on social media. I “unfriended” my own brother on Facebook for comments that I believed were anti-social. I do not believe in facilitating hate speech against anyone nor the condoning of violence in any forum, especially a public one. But then, I don’t run a social media global outlet with over one billion subscribers, and a financial valuation in the multi-billions of dollars.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but when Facebook takes down a posting by a leading Russian dissident one day because of pressure from the Putin government, and then permits pernicious language like “Nigga lover” to fall within their “community standards,” things seem upside down.

As far as the Facebook subscriber’s threat to “kill him,” when describing what he’d do to the NYC Mayor, I guess Facebook’s facilitators are waiting for an assassination attempt on DeBlasio’s life to consider it a “credible threat of violence.” Until then, it falls within their “Community Standards.”

Welcome to “Radical Correspondence.”

Welcome to Radical Correspondence, A New and Different Blog

I’ve looked at blogs from lots of sides now, and am never quite satisfied with their limitations.

In that spirit, and inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s term “Radical Correspondence” which appears in his Essay on “Nature”, I’ve decided to try something a bit different. Emerson defined a “radical correspondence between visible things and human thoughts.” Eloquently, he expressed it as: “A man’s power to connect his thought with its proper symbol, and so to utter it, depends on the simplicity of his character, that is, upon his love of truth and his desire to communicate it without loss.”

I’ve loved that pure and elegant expression of Emerson’s the moment I read it, and it linked directly to the profound influence which Saul Alinksy’s “Rules for Radicals” had upon me more than 40 years ago. Alinksy’s definition of “Radical”, like Emerson’s, was not political, but conveyed the necessity of getting to the root cause of “things and thoughts,” in all communications and actions.

This “Radical Correspondence” will be an attempt to express the simplicity of truth in the tradition of Emerson and Alinsky. I’ll use essay, poems, photos, artwork, guest blogs or any combination of them, to get the job done. There are, I believe, lots of paths to finding the truth, and “communicating it without loss.”

I welcome constructive suggestions about how we can better travel this path toward simplicity and truth together.

Thanks. I hope you enjoy our efforts.

Be well.

Steve Villano