It’s Not You, It’s Them

by: Michael Shields

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has nothing to apologize about. The NYPD on the other hand……

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This past week I read a tweet1 which wasn’t only amusing, but incredibly disheartening. It stated that the two organizations which protest at funerals were:

  1. The Westboro Baptist Church
  2. The NYPD

For The New York Police Department, this is incredibly unflattering company to keep. And remarkably, after this past week, The Westboro Baptist Church might be ashamed to be spoken of in the same breath as New York’s finest. I say this in jest of course, but this idea, that the NYPD would succumb to a common practice of one of the most hateful and misguided organizations in America, is disturbing. It isn’t simply unbecoming of an extremely proud and prominent organization, but rather a dangerous example to set in a climate of societal unrest and confusion. But, let us slow down for a moment, and take a minute to discuss how we arrived at this point.

Before we move on, I must declare (brace yourself for the obligatory not-all-cops-are-bad rhetoric) that I have no beef with the majority of police officers which make up the largest police force in the country2, New York’s finest – the NYPD. I feel safe living in New York, due emphatically to their efforts. When in need of aid I have implored the help of officers with not a complaint to log. I don’t despise the officers who make up the NYPD at all, the good ones, many that they are. But in terms of their decision to air their differences with Mayor de Blasio, turning their backs on him at the funeral of their fallen comrade, Officer Rafael Ramos3, I am embarrassed for them, and flat out angered at the misappropriated show of dissent.

It is important to be clear that the officers themselves, while accountable for the decision to turn their backs on Mayor de Blasio at the funeral of Officer Ramos, are not the root of the problem here. It is the Police Unions that are responsible for the highly questionable and decisive decision to take such a bold stance. Pat Lynch, the president of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (New York’s largest Police Union), essentially accused Mayor de Blasio of complicity in the officer’s murders, stating that “blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the office of the Mayor,” and he has circled the wagons, leaning heavily on all his Union members to stand with him against Mayor de Blasio.

So, what did Mayor de Blasio do wrong? What would cause thousands of police officers to turn their backs on him during the funeral for one of their own? Well, the short answer is nothing. Not a damn thing. The more complete answer is he is being mistakenly scapegoated for his support of the protests following the failure to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the murder of Eric Gardner. In respecting the people’s First Amendment right to protest, Mayor de Blasio has, in the minds of the Police Unions, positioned himself against the police. This, simply put, is not the case. What is happening here is a dangerous game of politics.

Let us not forget that Mayor de Blasio rose to the ranks of Mayor partly by campaigning for police reform. From his first day in office, he has begun the process of curtailing the stop-and-frisk campaign spearheaded by then Mayor Giuliani and championed by his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. He has scrutinized the use of violent force by police officers after Eric Gardner was choked to death. And it has been quoted that he and his wife have literally “trained” their black son Dante in how to handle encounters with cops. And this is why the Police Unions have a problem with Mayor de Blasio. These circumstances notwithstanding, the crux of the matter here is that the New York City Police Unions and right-wing politicians and media are using the tragic death of these two police officers in an effort to deliberately mislead the public. To manipulate them into believing there is an authentic connection between the murder of the officers and the thousands of peaceful protestors who have passionately filled streets across the nation the past few weeks. All for political and self-serving reasons.

“Maybe the NYPD can use their newfound love of back-turning the next time they see a dark skinned man walking the street doing nothing wrong.” – Chris Rock

Sunday, the Commissioner of the NYPD, Bill Bratton, said the “funeral was held to honor Officer Ramos, and to bring politics, to bring issues into that event, I think was very inappropriate and I do not support it. He is the Mayor of New York. He was there representing the citizens of New York to express their remorse and their regret at that death.” He went on to say that “this is a Mayor that cares very deeply about New York City police officers, cares very deeply about the divide in this city at this time and is working very hard to heal that divide.” This is an encouraging. But I wish he, and the powers that be at the NYPD, would go further4. I wish they would explain the people of the city are not against them. That there isn’t an anti-police movement, none of any significance at least. What protesters are asking for is simple. They are protesting for better policing. They are protesting against institutionalized racism, double standards, and poor police training that has resulted in unnecessary violence and killings. Simple as that. And they are as much on edge as anyone else that a mentally unstable man killed two police officers in cold blood.

It is in the most dire of times where true character is revealed. When in the face of adversity it is exposed who a person, or an organization, truly is. Thus, it is troubling to find members of the NYPD resorted to such a knee-jerk, misguided reaction to the horrible murders of two of their own. The NYPD needs to rise above this sort of political posturing. To stand strong in the face of dissent and to act as a solution to our mutual problems, and not initiators of larger ones. And that sort of action starts at the top. With the NYPD leadership, who its officers look to for guidance and support. It will never be too much to ask such a powerful agency to act within reason. To be able to listen in earnest to serious concerns brought to the national attention through a series of tragedies the last several months.

Is this act of defiance, this turning of backs, a demonstration of the NYPD’s desire to act with impunity, and a backlash towards those who dare to threaten their unmitigated authority? If so, the need for protest, and for change, is far greater than we ever imagined.

We, as New Yorkers, need the NYPD. Without our bravest of citizens committing themselves to the policing of our streets, one of the finer cities on the face of the planet will succumb to the anarchic disarray of the pre-Giuliani era5. In the 1970s, there was a war on the police in New York City. It wasn’t pretty. Police officers were being ambushed and sometimes executed causing an escalation in violence and civil unrest. Nobody wants a return to these darkened days. Especially the Mayor. Peace is, and always will be, the goal of all rational minded citizens. We must believe we can sort this out. Police reform is necessary, let us not confuse the issue nor pretend there is nothing wrong. The killing of the police officers in Brooklyn was a heinous and despicable act. But suggesting that the protests, or the Mayor’s words, are responsible for these murders is misguided and irresponsible.

In the words of six time NBA champion and lifelong political activist Kareem Abdul Jabbar, “the way to honor those who defend our liberties with their lives is not to curtail liberty, but to exercise it fully in pursuit of a just and peaceful society.” We can have it both ways. That is, we can simultaneously critique the failings of  the NYPD and demand a change in crippling behaviors, while touting the everyday heroics of that same force. We can juggle these two balls at one time. In fact, we must.

  1. By Grantland’s David Hill. []
  2. Over 50,000 employees – larger than the FBI! []
  3. Officer Wenjian Liu funeral is on Sunday, and I am hoping against hope this charade ceases by then, so that the proper respects can be made to Officer Liu and his family. []
  4. Today, Mayor de Blasio will meet with leaders of Captains Endowment Association, the Lieutenants Benevolent Association, the Sergeants Benevolent Association, the Detectives’ Endowment Association and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association in an effort to repair the rift between he and the NYPD. []
  5. I am not giving praise to Rudy Giuliani at this juncture. Do not get me started there. My beef is strong. I am just marking a period of time. []
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