Nel's New Day

January 7, 2015

Call Out Police Who Fail to ‘Protect and Serve’

Grand juries failed to indict police at least three times during the past few months for suspect shootings, one of the victims holding a piece of Walmart merchandise and the other standing on a sidewalk. In the seven years between 2004 and 2011, charges were filed in only 41 cases of at least 2718 homicides committee by police officers. Conviction rates for cases that go to trial are only half than for all other people. Police are above the law as shown by the recent Supreme Court ruling in Heinen v. North Carolina that police can break the law with impunity if they claim ignorance.

Yet these rights are not enough for the police. Chuck Canterbury, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, has asked for the addition of law enforcement to federal hate crime laws. A mentally disturbed person killed two NYPD officers, and the head of the city’s Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, blamed Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Obama because they told the public that blacks are not safe with all police officers. There are statistics to prove this, but Lynch accused de Blasio of having “blood on his hands.”

Canterbury wants hate crimes based on occupation. He ignored the concept that hate crimes are against people for innate characteristics—sex, race, disability, etc.–except for religion.

In juvenile fashion, officers turned their back on the mayor at the funerals of both murdered police officers and held a work slowdown. As mayor, de Blasio is the boss of NYPD officers, but some misguided cadets booed him when he spoke at their graduation ceremony. Canterbury and Lynch actually want federal laws putting police officers above criticism. By their behavior, some police officers indicate that they consider themselves entitled to any behavior that they choose, arrogantly blaming the civilian for any problems. To these officers, their badge and gun give them any rights, including beating and killing people for no offense.

Today the New York Times published a scathing editorial on NYPD officers’ egregious behavior:

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been in office barely a year, and already forces of entropy are roaming the streets, turning their backs on the law, defying civil authority and trying to unravel the social fabric.

No, not squeegee-men or turnstile-jumpers. We’re talking about the cops.

For the second straight week, police officers across the city have all but stopped writing tickets and severely cut down the number of arrests. The Times reported that in the week ending Sunday, only 347 criminal summonses were issued citywide, down from 4,077 over the same period last year. Parking and traffic tickets were down by more than 90 percent. In Coney Island, ticketing and summonses fell to zero.

The city has been placed in an absurd position, with its police commissioner, William Bratton—a pioneer of “broken windows” policing who has just written a long, impassioned defense of that strategy as an essential crime-fighting tool—leading a force that is refusing to carry it out.

Police union officials deny responsibility for the mass inaction. But Edward Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said officers had talked among themselves and “it became contagious,” apparently like the flu.

Call this what it is: a reckless, coordinated escalation of a war between the police unions and Mr. de Blasio and a hijacking of law-enforcement policy by those who do not set law-enforcement policy. This deplorable gesture is bound to increase tension in a city already rattled over the killing by the police of an unarmed man, Eric Garner, last summer, the executions of two officers in Brooklyn last month, and the shootings on Monday of two plainclothes officers in the Bronx.

Mr. Bratton spoke delicately at a news conference on Monday. He said there could be other explanations, like officers being too busy handling police-reform demonstrations and attending funerals. He promised to investigate—and to “deal with it very appropriately, if we have to.”

Mr. de Blasio’s critics foretold doom when he was elected a year ago. They said graffiti, muggings and other crime would rush back with a vengeance. They were dead wrong — crime rates continued to decline to historic lows in 2014 — but now it seems the cops are trying to help prove them right.

The madness has to stop. The problem is not that a two-week suspension of “broken windows” policing is going to unleash chaos in the city. The problem is that cops who refuse to do their jobs and revel in showing contempt to their civilian leaders are damaging the social order all by themselves.

Mr. de Blasio, who has been cautious since the shootings, found his voice on Monday, saying for the first time that the police officers’ protests of turning their backs at the slain officers’ funerals had been disrespectful to the families of the dead. He was right, but he needs to do more.

He should appeal directly to the public and say plainly that the police are trying to extort him and the city he leads.

If the Police Department’s current commanders cannot get the cops to do their jobs, Mr. de Blasio should consider replacing them. He should invite the Justice Department to determine if the police are guilty of civil rights violations in withdrawing policing from minority communities. He should remind the police that they are public employees, under oath to uphold city and state laws.

If Mr. de Blasio’s critics are right and the city is coming unglued, it is not because of what he has done. He was elected by an overwhelming vote, because he promised action on police reform, starting with the end of stop-and-frisk tactics that corralled so many innocent New Yorkers into the criminal-justice system. The city got the mayor it wanted—and then, because of Mr. de Blasio, it got Mr. Bratton.

Mr. Bratton’s faith in “broken windows” needs rethinking. But nothing will be fixed as long as police officers are refusing to do their jobs.

A video emerged this week of a New York cop, apparently with nothing better to do, horsing around on the hood of a squad car, falling off and hitting his head. It would be hard to invent a more fitting image of the ridiculous—and dangerous—place this atmosphere of sullen insubordination has taken us.

Hugh Sansom commented:

“In October, 2011, the Bronx DA indicted 11 police officers for fixing tickets on behalf of family and friends. PBA members and Patrick Lynch rallied in support of these cop-lawbreakers. As NYC news organizations reported then they jeered at the DA. Some tried to intimidate cameramen. Many held signs saying that fixing tickets was part of the ‘NYPD culture.’ “

Of the 25 black police officers, both past and present, interviewed about being racially profiled, all by one said that it had happened to them. One third of those officers said that they complained to supervisors, and all except one “either dismissed the complaints or retaliated against them by denying them overtime, choice assignments, or promotions,” according to a story in the City Journal. 

Since NYPD officers started pouting, tickets and summonses for minor offenses shrank by 94 percent and overall arrests went down by 66 percent. A major problem from these actions is that police budgets will suffer from lack of fines that make up for funding shortfalls. On the other hand, city residents, particularly the targeted low-income people, will save money.

Last October, for example, a small group of black teenagers were told to leave a predominantly white neighborhood. An officer trailed them in his squad car and then shouted in his megaphone to “get out of the neighborhood.” A citizen questioned the action at a community meeting. The officer’s commanding officer, Captain Frank DiGiacomo, knew nothing about the event but said that his officer was probably trying to prevent crime. He said:

“Most of the crimes that happen in our command are from outside people committing the crimes. If [teens] are not playing basketball, you’re not playing soccer, you’re not doing something productive in the neighborhood, I can see [officers] moving them.”

The police no doubt assumed that the youth were “outside people” because they weren’t white.

Over a half century ago, African-American author James Baldwin, who grew up in New York, wrote:

“One day, to everyone’s astonishment, someone drops a match in the powder keg and everything blows up. Before the dust has settled or the blood congealed, editorials, speeches, and civil-rights commissions are loud in the land, demanding to know what happened. What happened is that Negroes want to be treated like men.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, son and grandson of police officers, wrote:

“Those who are trying to connect the murders of the officers with the thousands of articulate and peaceful protestors across America are being deliberately misleading in a cynical and selfish effort to turn public sentiment against the protestors…. They hope to misdirect public attention and emotion in order to stop the protests and the progressive changes that have already resulted. Shaming and blaming is a lot easier than addressing legitimate claims.”

More people need to call out the police officers who fail the people they are hired “to protect and serve.”

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