[guest post by Dana]
After the deaths of Officer Ramos and Officer Liu, John Marshall over at TPM wanted to know whether he was missing something in his look at the NYPD/NYC conflict, which culminated in the question Who Do You Work For? being asked:
The conflicts over policing are ones that need to be worked out at the grass roots level in the hard but critical work of police-community relations and at the grander level of city politics. But what has been disturbing to me for weeks, well before this tragedy this weekend, is the way that at least the leadership of the police unions has basically gone to war against the Mayor over breaking even in small ways from lockstep backing of the police department in all cases and at all times. When we hear members of the NYPD union leadership talking about being forced to become a “wartime” police department, who exactly are they going to war with? WTF does that mean? And who is the enemy?
What I want to focus on is the thoughtful email response from a police officer that Marshall knows and whose views on the NYPD turmoil he requested. An experienced New York police officer – who also happens to be a progressive Democrat. I am highlighting the more interesting parts:
First off, a disclaimer. I’m not your typical cop. I’m a progressive Democrat. Rarely do I come across another in the department who shares my politics, and when I do, I liken it to discovering another member of the French Resistance. We keep our views to ourselves… though I have become more vocal in recent years.
As for Lynch, the city PBA President, Police Departments are paramilitary organizations, highly regulated, and Police Officers in general are highly circumscribed in how they can act and what they can say, at the risk insubordination and disciplinary action. The PBA President is in many ways their only public voice. And when they are angry, frustrated, and feel set upon by their political leaders, the union leader who fails to express that emotion is going to lose the respect of the rank and file. (Officers who speak out publicly against Department leaders have, in the past, been brought up on departmental disciplinary charges. Union leaders enjoy a certain amount of protection under labor laws.)
The officer then cites the incentives Lynch has to keep his job: 98K PBA compensation on top of his city salary. He also discusses an increasingly diverse NYPD and the reluctance of old school cops to embrace the changing face of the department. He amusingly likens this attitude with what he sees as the Tea Party’s “siege mentality” – us against them.
And then there is the issue of race:
I’ve been accused of being racist by African-American civilians just because of the color of my uniform. In one instance by an African-American ex-NYPD officer at a domestic incident. *He spent 15 minutes interrupting me and claiming I was “only treating him that way” because he was black, while in reality I was treating him as I would any other person, based on his actions. I have close friends on the force, white, who are in interracial marriages, and on more than one occasion where they are accused of racism will pull out their wallet and show the accuser a picture of their wife and children. Are there cops with racist views? Of course. Do cops go out intending to kill people? No. They go out on patrol intending to come home to their families. I read recently that there are about 25 million interactions each year between the police and citizens in New York City. Statistically, bad things will happen. We can do our best to train and equip and sensitize officers to the community, but they are human, and not infallible. Nobody wants a bad actor in the ranks, it makes everyone’s job harder. We’re happy to see them go when they are found out.
Sharpton is anathema to the NYPD since the 1987 Tawana Brawley debacle and his habit of showing in front of cop’s suburban residences in protest after they were involved in shootings, even before his recent rhetoric. De Blasio’s close association with Sharpton during his campaign and subsequently sets a very bad precedent for his relations with the police. Sharpton is absolute poison to cops. A cop who was assigned to the detail at the 1991 rally where Sharpton was stabbed in assassination attempt, and had a hand in saving his life, told me it counts it as one of the mistakes of his career. That’s the feeling, and de Blasio’s association with Sharpton, while perhaps wise in the broader political sense, does him no good with the rank and file of the police department.
Even African-American police officers that I know have spoken out against Sharpton and his tactics, even referring to his tactics as “race-baiting.” The perception of Sharpton’s rhetoric as anti-police is not limited to white cops.
The writer follows this with a look at Lynch’s words and the limits of free speech:
I don’t find Lynch’s comments shocking, given the environment he has to operate in. Though I think he was out of line with his comments at the hospital about blood on the hands of the mayor, it is incendiary – but it’s what’s expected of him – even if that rhetoric has the unintended effect of increasing the level of danger to the very people he represents. It’s red meat for the rank-and-file masses. This is the way politics is done these days, inside and outside of unions, and that speech probably clinched the PBA election for him. He is channeling the anger, and using it partially for his own benefit.
I have not been this upset since 9/11, when I lost a close friend, a city cop. It’s an emotional time, I feel the loss deeply. It’s senseless, and I do believe that some of the rhetoric contributed to it. There is a sense, too, that the protesters have crossed over the line of free speech. Free speech should not include the right to block traffic, or bridges – and there is a sense that de Blasio has allowed that. On-scene commanders seem to have allowed the acts of blocking traffic, normally an offense. But couple protests that skirt the edge of laws or break them and include incendiary rhetoric and anti-police sentiment, and the cops start to scratch their heads…
Who do cops work for? We try to be impartial. We uphold the constitution and the laws… so there is not a real sense that the police work for de Blasio or the People or the City Council or Bratton… the sense is that we enforce those laws that the people put in place. And when the politicians allow people to break those laws in the name of free speech, the cops feel betrayed. I get the reason behind civil disobedience, etc, but civil disobedience is normally undertaken at the risk of arrest. I think even the cops respect that… you want to make your point, you get carried to the paddy wagon. Point taken, with all due respect. But when that risk is taken away by a political decision not to arrest, the cops see a slippery slope to anarchy. (In New York, though, with few exceptions, its a credit to both the citizens and the police that we did not see another Ferguson. Let’s hope it stays that way.)
*Pointing out the obvious: Given that we know this benefit of the doubt only works one way, it’s really ironic that a progressive Democrat may have had to work to convince a black man that he was being judged by his actions alone and not the color of his skin.