When Stanley Ridley got a call about the fatal shooting of 25-year-old NYPD Officer Omar J. Edwards on May 28, he says it was like experiencing his own son’s death all over again. Edwards, who is African-American, was shot to death while attempting to apprehend a suspect who was breaking into his car. Off-duty, in plainclothes and brandishing his gun while in pursuit, Edwards was mistakenly shot by a fellow officer who is White. Ridley’s 23-year-old son Christopher was a police officer in neighboring White Plains, New York, when on January 25, 2008, he was shot by four White officers after being off-duty, in plainclothes and using his weapon to apprehend a suspect. Ridley, who lost his only son that day, speaks to ESSENCE.com about Christopher’s death, what the Edwards family must be experiencing, and why he believes Black men have become expendable to law enforcement.
My son Christopher was a very quiet and mild-mannered young man. After he graduated from high school in 2003, he moved in with me. Every father looks for his child to be a success. I wanted Christopher to graduate from high school, go to college and become a responsible adult. He attended Westchester Community College for almost two years when he decided to take every municipal test that was available—police officer, correction officer, court officer, fire department. He scored well on the police officer’s exam and was on the force for two-and-a-half years. He took his job seriously. He cared about the people he served. He was the kind of officer who was on the job all the time even when he was off-duty.
I was watching the news on television when the report came up about a police officer who was killed in White Plains. A few hours later, one of Christopher’s friends, who is also an officer, called to give me his condolences. He didn’t know that I hadn’t been told yet that Christopher was the officer who had been shot and killed.
When I heard about Officer Edwards, it just brought back a flood of bad memories and tears. They’re both African-American, been on the force for two years, in their early twenties, loved by so many people and killed exactly in the same way. My prayers go out to his family. When it’s all said and done, the friends are gone, the press is gone, it is your family who is there for those long, lonely nights. They will have to revisit this for the rest of their lives, so it’s important for them to support one another right now.
I believe my son’s shooting was racially motivated and so was this incident. You don’t see White officers shot this way. It’s always African-American men. No matter what we do for a living, African-American men are looked at as perpetrators first. My son didn’t have a record. He graduated from high school, went to college, became an officer and now he’s dead. It’s rare that you hear of a Black officer shooting a White officer or White officers shooting each other. Why is that?
If they did everything right and Christopher did everything wrong, then he would be alive today. We have to look at this and admit that there is a problem. I don’t believe that a police officer would not identify themselves when there are other officers surrounding him screaming “drop your gun.” Part of the answer is training, but the other is that police officers need to be more professional when it comes to handling the public and that learning process has to start in the police academy. It has to be constantly amended so that African-American men can be in law enforcement without being treated like criminals.
We all have to stand up and fight this. Your cousins, uncles, brothers, husbands and friends are still there and if you don’t want to see them treated like this, then we have to say something. I don’t want to have to attend another funeral and visit another family who has lost their son for this reason. My son and I were constantly in touch with one another. Now the calls have stopped and that’s the hardest part. Unfortunately, I feel like this wound is always going to be open for me.