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“Ending Police Brutality Isn’t Up To The Communities”: Want To Stop Police Brutality? Start Disciplining Officers

As they strive to solve the public crisis of police use-of-force incidents, illuminated again by the deaths of several black victims last year, officials from the White House on down have coalesced around “community policing.” When it comes to influencing the national conversation on a local issue like this, it doesn’t get more official than the U.S. Conference of Mayors, or USCM. The non-partisan organization is comprised of more than one thousand mayors representing the nation’s largest cities. Its mission is to shape national urban policy and the positions adopted at their annual meeting are distributed to the President of the United States and to Congress.

On January 30, the USCM released a report on strengthening “police-community” relations in American cities. The six-page report came full of recommendations for everything from “youth study circles” to new equipment. The report was completed with the help of a working group of police chiefs, including Philadelphia Commissioner Charles Ramsey, the man appointed by President Obama to chair his Task Force on 21st Century Policing in response to rising unrest around around the issue of police brutality.

Absent from their suggestions, however, was a single mention of officer discipline.

A full page is dedicated to the imprecise goal of “Addressing Racial and Economic Disparities and Community Frustration with and Distrust of Governmental Institutions.” The use of “distrust,” however, is disingenuous. While black citizens do report having less confidence than white ones in police, the overwhelming majoritymore than three-quartersreport having some to a “great deal of confidence” in police. Trust isn’t the issue here.

What the #BlackLivesMatter protests made clear is that communities of color are increasingly fed up with the over-policing of our neighborhoods, extrajudicial killings of unarmed black people and the failures of the justice system to hold killer cops accountable. To ignore those complaints and suggest that the issue is merely one of distrust is dishonest, and it evades the very obvious fact that police brutality is a national problem that persists, in part, because cops can get away with it.

I’ve commented before on “community policing,” but it’s worth noting again how troubling that term is. “Community policing” reframes the conversation around police reform from one that addresses police brutality to one that addresses the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color, as though they’re mutually combative. The relationship between the two isn’t the issue. It’s the manner in which law enforcement relates to communities of color that’s proven deadly, time and time again.

Comedian Chris Rock provided an apt analogy for this during his recent New York Magazine interview.

“If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, ‘Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.’ It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner.”

Similarly, ending police brutality isn’t up to the communities that are brutalized. It’s up to the cops.

Now, the USCM report is not all bad. Its call for independent investigations of deadly police encounters is a substantive step. It makes helpful nods toward improving hiring and training practices. However, the report’s failure to get serious about police reform and combating police abuses and to instead focus on “relationships,” while politically convenient, doesn’t begin to solve the problem. The report fails, for instance, to address the systematic failure of police departments nationally to discipline officers who are found to have inappropriately engaged citizens and used excessive force.

Take the New York Police Department, for example, the nation’s largest. It is often at the forefront of innovation in the field. But, when it comes to disciplining officers for misconduct, the NYPD fails miserably. Just last year, the department decided not to discipline 25 percent of the officers who its Civilian Complaint Review Board found guilty of committing misconduct. A WNYC report also found that the NYPD fails to drive out cops who present red flags for abuse.

Within policing, too-frequent charges of “resisting arrest” by cops is a red flag for excessive force. The logic is that an abusive officer will be more likely to cover up excessive force with the excuse that a suspect resisted arrest. But WNYC found that just five percent of officers who’ve made arrests since 2009 accounted for 40 percent of the charges of resisting arrest. They even discovered one active officer to have made more than 50 charges. Does the community just need a better “relationship” with this cop who curiously finds himself in these sorts of situations time and time again?

Coincidentally, just last week, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton asked New York lawmakers to raise resisting arrest from a misdemeanor to a felony. That is an alarming claim, given how and why Eric Garner was choked to death on Staten Island by a police officer in July. Like the subsequent deaths of John Crawford III in an Ohio Wal-Mart, Tamir Rice near a Cleveland community center, each incident was avoidable and not one of their killers has been brought to justice. Another one that qualifies is the November shooting death of Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn housing project stairwell; we learned Tuesday that the officer involved was indicted Tuesday on several counts, including second-degree manslaughter.

There’s a suite of reforms, from recruiting to data collection, that need to be made throughout the nation’s police departments, and strengthening discipline measures must be central to any proposal that seeks justice for victims of police brutality and to prevent future tragedies.

First, police departments must do a better job of actively ferreting out bad cops. Using early warning systems that trigger an intervention process when an officer has an excessive number of use of force complaints against him, or has filed a certain number of resisting arrest charges, is a start. Departments also need central databases that collect information on police conduct from various sources, so that an officer’s complete record can be compiled and viewed. Police departments must also make it a priority to maintain their integrity by investigating citizen complaints swiftly, impartially and with transparency. Independent, civilian-led complaint review boards are essential in doing that work.

Finally, the decisions of civilian review boards should not just serve as recommendations for discipline, but should be a determining factor in it. That is, in effect, the only way to hold police officers directly accountable to the communities they serve.

“Community policing” sounds good. As proposed, it will probably be more politically expedient than substantive change in policy, but we cannot fix our deadly system of policing without addressing officer discipline. There must be measures in place to make cops think twice about pulling the trigger. It’s a matter of accountability, but also of life and death.

 

By: Donovan X. Ramsey, The New Republic, Fbruary 12, 2015

 

February 13, 2015 Posted by | Community Policing, Police Abuse, Police Brutality | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The NYPD Slowdown’s Dirty Little Secret”: Not All Of Them Want The Slowdown To End

The police slowdown in New York, where cops have virtually stopped making certain types of low-level arrests, might be coming to an end soon. For a lot of police officers, it’ll be an unhappy moment, because they never liked making the penny ante collars in the first place.

“We’re coming out of what was a pretty widespread stoppage of certain types of activity, the discretionary type of activity by and large,” police commissioner Bill Bratton told NPR’s Robert Siegel in an interview Friday.

In the rank and file of the police department, there are mixed feelings about the slowdown and a possible return to the status quo.

“I’d break it down like this,” an officer in East Harlem told The Daily Beast. “20 percent of the department is very active, they’d arrest their mothers if they could, and they want to get back to work. Another 20 percent doesn’t want any activity period; they’d be happy to hide and nap all day.”

The officer added, “And then there’s the great middle that thinks things are fine now as far as their concerned and all they want is good arrests.”

The not good arrests, by implication, were all the low level infractions policed as part of the so-called “Broken Windows” approach to law enforcement, defended by both Bratton and Mayor de Blasio. It holds that one of the ways to bust high-level crooks is to crack down on seemingly minor crimes.

Between December 29 2014—January 4 2015, arrests across New York city dropped by 56 percent and summonses were down 92 percent compared to the same time last year.

It’s not novel to point out that the police slowdown, which pitted the police and their unions against city hall, granted one of the central demands of the #blacklivesmatter protestors—an end to Broken Windows policing.

Less noted though, is how many police officers are themselves ambivalent about actively enforcing low level offenses, and how that bodes for the post-slowdown future of policing in New York.

Retired NYPD lieutenant Steve Osborne made the point in an op-ed for the New York Times that was sharply critical of both de Blasio and the protestors.

“More police productivity has meant far less crime, but at a certain point New York began to feel like, yes, a police state, and the police don’t like it any more than you,” Osborne wrote.

“The time has probably come for the Police Department to ease up on the low-level ‘broken-windows’ stuff while re-evaluating the impact it may or may not have on real, serious crime,” he added. “No one will welcome this more than the average cop on the beat, who has been pressed to find crime where so much less of it exists.”

Day to day, no one has been telling police officers in New York how not to do their jobs.

“It sounds very unusual,” the officer in East Harlem said, “but I haven’t seen any coordinated activity besides the union putting the message out and then saying jump.”

It hasn’t taken much effort to coordinate the slowdown because, as Osborne notes, average beat cops were never that excited in the first place with going after public urination and loitering arrests. To them, it was a distraction from stopping more serious crimes.

Broken Windows advocates argue that some cops always resisted more active policing. When Broken Windows was first introduced, they say, police officers had to be pushed, by Bratton among others, to adopt the active policing approach that brought crime down to its current historic lows in new York.

But as New York got safer, the methods rather than the results became the measures of success. More arrests meant better policing as the tail started to wag the dog.

Bratton himself has said nearly as much in criticizing his predecessor Ray Kelly’s overuse of the controversial stop and frisk tactic that overwhelmingly targeted minorities.

“The commissioner and the former mayor did a great job in the sense of keeping the community safe, keeping crime down, but one of the tools used to do that, I believe, was used too extensively,” Bratton said in March 2014.

Stop and Frisks have fallen considerably since their high in 2011 when 685,724 New Yorkers were stopped by police, but some numbers driven approaches remain embedded in the department.

As a detective in the Bronx tells The Daily Beast, “there technically are no quotas” in the police department “but you can call them what you want, “productivity goals,” they are back door quotas.”

And those back door quotas can put pressure on officers.

“I have to suspend my disbelief,” the officer in East Harlem said, “to see how sentencing a guy with an open container is going to really bring crime down.”

“Violent crimes haven’t gotten worse in my little slice of heaven despite the slowdown on summonses and misdemeanors,” the officer added. “We’re still responding to robbery patterns. We haven’t gone down in presence for the more serious offenses.”

He acknowledged that it was too soon to say how such a policing strategy would play out over an extended period. “Whether it works will reveal itself over time. That remains to be seen.”

Once New York is out of the slowdown, it’s not clear what kind of policing the city will see on the other side. Will Bratton push the police to bring arrests back up to levels before they dropped off or will the department test its ability to back off?

Maybe there will be some new middle ground possible despite the bluster and rhetoric. According to The Daily News, the combative president of the police union is pushing for just a slowdown that’s a little bit faster. As one police source told the paper, “He said they should go back to at least 50% of what they used to do.”

 

By: Jacob Siegel, The Daily Beast, January 10, 2015

January 14, 2015 Posted by | Broken Windows Policing, NYPD, Police Abuse | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No One Here Should Be Turning His Back”: Facing Each Other, Those On Each Side Might Be Surprised By What They See

Whom are police officers turning their backs on when they refuse to face Mayor Bill de Blasio, and whom are they protecting? On the night of Saturday, December 20th, after a man named Ismaaiyl Brinsley shot the officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, execution style, outside of a Bedford-Stuyvesant housing project, a line of officers who’d gathered at the Woodhull Medical Center faced away from the Mayor as he walked passed them. They were mourning and distraught; one might wish that they realized more fully that the city and its mayor were mourning with them, but it was the sort of act of shocked grief that can be forgiven the next day. That was more than a week ago, though. Since then, Patrick Lynch, the head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a police union, all but called de Blasio the officers’ killer—he had “blood on his hands.” At Ramos’s funeral, held two days after Christmas, the officers in an overflow crowd outside the church turned their backs on the screen showing de Blasio giving his eulogy. Then, on Monday, at the graduation ceremony for the city’s police academy, members of the audience shouted “Traitor!” when de Blasio spoke, and there was scattered back-turning, though not, apparently, among the newest officers. De Blasio, in a speech that was almost abject, said, “You will confront all the problems that plague our society—problems that you didn’t create.” According to the Times, “a heckler yelled out ‘You did!’ and drew applause.”

But what, exactly, did de Blasio do? What was his “betrayal,” to borrow another of Lynch’s bitter phrases? After a grand jury failed to indict anyone in the death of Eric Garner, even though a video showed an officer putting him in what, by the N.Y.P.D.’s own rules, was an impermissible chokehold, de Blasio said that many in the city “did not want” that outcome. But he was less than explicit about what he wished, other than for any protests to be peaceful and, more generally, to not have to worry about how the police might deal with a child like his son Dante. Perhaps a fantasy mayor would have come out smiling following the news of the grand jury and presented it as a vindication. But what or whom would have been defended with a gesture like that? How would the city have been served by what whole communities would have experienced as scorn? (The Mayor may be the target here, but the message that members of the police will turn their backs on those who criticize them, excluding them from a circle of protection, is broad and unhelpful.) De Blasio promised, in his campaign, to do away with the N.Y.P.D.’s stop-and-frisk policies. A court case had already given him and the city good reason. Voters agreed, a source of tense confrontations was removed, and, in the year since, crime has fallen. He reacted defensively to criticism of his wife’s chief of staff, who, among other problems, had a boyfriend with a criminal record. Yet, at the same time, he brought in Bill Bratton, hardly a flaming radical, as his police commissioner.

Creating a space for peaceful, lawful protests is not what killed Ramos and Liu. The murderer was Brinsley, a lifetime petty criminal who didn’t even live in New York. Hours before the killings, he was in an apartment in Baltimore, pointing a gun at his girlfriend, Shaneka Thompson. He shot her in the abdomen; she survived, and he fled to Brooklyn. He posted an Instagram message saying “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours … let’s take 2 of theirs.” At that point, he had already come close to putting “wings on” Shaneka Thompson, and any police officer in the country would have had good reason to arrest him in defense of a young, black woman. Brinsley added a “shootthepolice” hashtag and ones about Garner and Michael Brown; after news of the shooting, those words, his would-be excuses, were seen as explosive. They only are, though, if someone like Brinsley gets to decide what is “ours” and what is “theirs”—and who the us in “let’s” is. And he doesn’t. Ramos and Liu were ours; claiming them has nothing to do with race. Brinsley was nobody’s.

There is clearly anger toward de Blasio within the police force, as well as heartfelt dislike. It may be the legitimate result of a thousand acts of clumsiness and cultural blindness on the Mayor’s part. No matter the statistics, officers like Ramos and Liu, or Russel Timoshenko and Herman Yan, put their lives on the line. De Blasio is the mayor, and it is his job to form connections with people who have one of the hardest, most dangerous jobs in the city. Clearly he can do better, but it is also clear that he is trying. The police may feel left out, or that people don’t understand the hard work they have done—that new residents born in distant, safer places think they are the ones who’ve transformed Bushwick or Bed-Stuy, as if a peaceful city requires only artful curators, not custodians. For members of the police, suddenly places they didn’t want to patrol are places they can hardly afford to live on an officer’s salary. Their dismay may be understandable. But it should not be enraging. New York is a much safer city than it used to be, and that requires an adjustment by police officers, too. This may be where the N.Y.P.D.’s own leadership has failed. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association recently put a message on its Web site saying “Don’t let them insult your sacrifice!” It linked to a document that officers could sign asking de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito not to come to their funerals if they are killed in the line of duty, saying that it would be an “insult” due to their “consistent refusal to show police officers the support and respect they deserve.” The statement is not a request to remove politics from funerals, but rather an effort to politicize them.

De Blasio did go to Ramos’s funeral—the insult would have been if he hadn’t. He spoke about Ramos’s love for his wife, Maritza (“the love of his life and the partner in all things”), and his sons, Justin and Jaden (“they are Mets fans. God bless them. And he loved playing basketball with his sons in Highland Park”). He added a few words in Spanish (“era un padre y esposo amoroso, un hombre de mucha fe”). Officer Ramos was studying to be a pastor, and Vice-President Joseph Biden, who also spoke at the funeral, said that he “didn’t just have a Bible in his locker; he lived it in his heart.” Wenjian Liu will be buried this coming weekend (the services were delayed to allow relatives to get here from China; that these two men are the ones Brinsley found randomly is a reflection of the N.Y.P.D.’s real diversity, as well as the city’s). Many of the officers outside were not New Yorkers; they had come from California, the United Kingdom, and places in between, and so it is hard to say what they knew about de Blasio when they made their act of protest, or what they knew about this city. They might answer that they knew what they needed to about being cops, and, sometimes, about being alone. That would be better expressed by moving toward people—the officers’ families, the communities they live in, even the Mayor—rather than showing their backs. The same could undoubtedly be said of some of those in the crowds that protested the grand jury’s verdict. Facing each other, those on each side might be surprised by what they see. The time for turning away is over.

 

By: Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, December 30, 2014

January 5, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, Law Enforcement, NYPD | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Need Our Police To Be Better Than This”: It’s Part Of Having The Badge And The Right To Use Force

In 1951, Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. The two never got along, but that wasn’t why Truman canned him. “I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was,” explained Truman after the fact. “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the president.” You expect soldiers of all ranks to understand the need to respect the chain of command, regardless of personal feelings.

Soldiers—and cops, too.

Which is one big reason the display by members of the New York Police Department at the funeral of slain patrolman Rafael Ramos is particularly disturbing. At Ramos’s funeral service Saturday, NYPD rank-and-file—along with members of police forces attending from around the country—turned their backs when Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his eulogy. This was a very public fuck you to a politician widely perceived by conservatives and law-and-order types as weak on crime and in the pocket of social-justice warriors. Yet the cops’ protest illustrates exactly what drives so much fear of the police: the worry that cops react emotionally and impulsively in situations that call for cool rationality and a reliance on training and strategic restraint. “It wasn’t planned,” said one of the protesters. “Everyone just started doing it.”

“I certainly don’t support that action,” said NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. “I think it was very inappropriate at that event.” Bratton—whom de Blasio appointed and who first served as commissioner under tough-guy Rudy Giuliani—is very much in the tradition of “Give ’em Hell” Harry Truman. Which is to say that he at times lets his emotions get the best of him, as when he spuriously implicated President Obama for strained relations between police and citizens, saying that cops feel as if they “are under attack from the federal government at the highest levels.”

But if de Blasio is in fact soft on crime, he made an exceedingly strange choice in tapping Bratton, credited with helping drive crime down in ’90s New York under Giuliani and in 21st-century Los Angeles, to lead the NYPD. As a cop’s cop, Bratton is in the best possible situation to restore respect for authority among New York’s finest.

The NYPD—and cops more generally—have a public relations problem in the wake of the Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and a long string of other cases. Acting like a bunch of high-school jocks protesting a ban on keg parties isn’t exactly going to win over many hearts and minds. It’s exactly the inability of the cops who killed Garner to restrain themselves that bothered so may of us who watched the video of the encounter. The same goes for the hysterical overreaction and escalation of force used against protesters in Ferguson over the summer.

Yes, cops are under stress and tension (though their jobs are far less dangerous than normally supposed). But they are trained to rise above mere emotional responses; that’s one of the reasons they are given a state-sanctioned monopoly on force. Yet even after the funeral protest, de Blasio was booed and heckled while addressing a new class of recruits as well.

That’s not the worst of it. In the wake of the murders of Ramos and Liu, the head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, immediately issued a statement claiming that “there’s blood on many hands tonight” and “that blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the office of the mayor.” In fact, Ramos and Liu were killed by deranged gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a career criminal who shot his girlfriend in Baltimore, drove to New York, and bragged about “putting wings on pigs.”

I’m no de Blasio partisan, but the mayor’s willingness to entertain the notion that Eric Garner needn’t have died in police custody has about as much to do with the murders of Ramos and Liu as Sarah Palin’s defense of the Second Amendment had to do with madman Jared Loughner’s shooting of Gabby Giffords. Which is to say: nothing.

The New York Post reports that an email circulating among the NYPD declares, “We have… become a ‘wartime’ Police Department… We will act accordingly.” The email further advised that “two units are to respond to EVERY call,” regardless of the severity of the situation or “the opinion of the patrol supervisor,” a tactic that, the Post notes, not only bucks the chain of command but would “effectively cut in half the NYPD’s patrol strength.”

Prior to the killing of Ramos and Liu, the last time an NYPD cop was ambushed in such a way was in 1988; their deaths were the first in the line of fire since 2011. Yet the email references the 1970s, “when police officers were ambushed and executed on a regular basis.” We normally associate such massive displays of overreaction with pearl-clutching undergraduates calling for “trigger warnings” when faced with reading The Great Gatsby.

Echoing Truman talking about MacArthur, Bratton has said that it was wrong for cops to disrespect de Blasio at the Ramos service because “he is the mayor of New York [and] he was there representing the citizens of New York to express their remorse and their regret at that death.” The police commissioner is sitting down with the unions representing the NYPD rank and file to work through issues that range “far beyond race relations in this city” and include contract disputes about pay, benefits, and more (these latter issues suggest that police outrage at city leaders may be as much a negotiating tactic as in-the-moment reactions).

Based on the responses so far by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the cops themselves, those won’t be pleasant conversations. But Bratton himself has granted that black people “of all classes” have told him they fear the police. Such attitudes join the growing discomfort with militarized police who always seem ready to escalate force and refuse to acknowledge any culpability when things go wrong.

As Bratton and the NYPD start talking among themselves, the commissioner will do well to paraphrase another Trumanism: “The buck stops here.” The police cannot ultimately control public opinion unilaterally. What they can do, though, is acknowledge that a change in their attitudes, behavior, policies, and willingness to engage in discussions about how people see them can help them win back the public trust.

 

By: Nick Gilllespie, The Daily Beast, December 31, 2014

January 2, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Police Brutality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Stats Are All On Bill de Blasio’s Side”: Crime Has Changed; The NYPD Should Change Too

Back before a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner, before a Baltimore man named Ismaiiyl Brinsley assassinated officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in Brooklyn as some deranged form of response, and before New York’s politics descended into chaos, with a crowd of hundreds of officers turning their backs on their mayor when he spoke at Ramos’s funeral and the head of the police union saying that de Blasio was acting less like the city’s responsible chief executive and more like the head of a “fucking revolution” — before all of this blazing December heat over the politics of crime, Mayor de Blasio gave a speech at a public housing project in Brooklyn addressing the city’s spectacular public safety record this year. In 2014, he noted, nearly all major crimes continued to decline and New York looks likely to see even fewer murders than it did last year, which set a record for the lowest total in modern history. These stats are particularly important to de Blasio politically, because he has promised that the less heavy-handed policing regime he envisioned (fewer stops, less harassment, more transparency and accountability) would not lead to more crime, and in this year’s crime data he could claim a little bit of proof. “We think it’s normal that we can bring crime down while bringing police and community closer together,” the mayor said, at the Ingersoll Houses in Fort Greene, on December 2. It was a striking speech, because de Blasio, adopting a technocratic tone, was arguing that crime had changed and therefore policing could change, too.

Before Ferguson, this could be seen as part of a broader political correction, in that the country in general had seemed to turn against the crime and punishment regime that has basically stood since the 1980s. Even most of the major Republican presidential candidates (Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Chris Christie) have made it clear that they believed major reforms to reduce sentences and inmate population were overdue. States had been cutting prison populations to the extent that by 2013 the number of prisoners they housed was getting smaller rather than larger for the first time in 40 years. Scholars found that those states that cut their inmate population most dramatically had, unexpectedly, seen the largest drops in crime, which made it hard to argue that closing prisons would return us to the dark days of the ’80s. When de Blasio built his campaign in part around the case against stop-and-frisk, and when Bill Bratton agreed to implement radical changes to the policy, they were taking a risk, in that any major increase in crime could be blamed on these decisions. But you could see their calculation: Politically speaking, they were riding a pretty strong wave.

But something strange has happened during the past month, both in the politics of New York and those of the country. In the debates over policing that followed the tragedies of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and officers Ramos and Liu, race has assumed the central role, displacing crime. This has brought about a more direct confrontation with our remaining national sickness around race, but it has also surfaced an atavistic, tribal strain in our politics, reminiscent of the racialized fights of an earlier era. It is probably no accident that some of the central figures of New York’s recent past returned to the public stage last week, and that their view diverged from de Blasio’s. Instead of a reasonable, technocratic decision to adjust policies of policing and punishment to a place where there is much less crime, they saw the debate as a declaration of allegiances — of whose side you were on.

“We’ve had four months of propaganda — starting with the president — that everyone should hate the police,” Rudy Giuliani said. “That’s what the protests were all about.” Ray Kelly suggested that de Blasio’s public statements that his son Dante, who is half-black, take “special care” when dealing with police “set off this latest firestorm.” George Pataki called the slayings of Ramos and Liu a “predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric” from de Blasio and Eric Holder, Obama’s long-serving attorney general.

With all the talk of race, in New York and elsewhere, doubtless some of the police and their defenders feel as if they are being blamed for things that are not their fault, that a whole ugly national history is being dumped on their heads. On Fox News and CNN, Giuliani kept returning to his conviction that de Blasio was defaming the NYPD as racist. But in the responses to the assassination, it was possible to sense a deep perceptive chasm in addition to the emotional one — not merely over how the police should operate, but on what the nature of crime is. De Blasio called Brinsley a “heinous individual” and a “horrible assassin,” but his emphasis was always on the individual maniac, not anything he stood for or anyone he represented. There was surely some political calculation to this, alongside genuine belief, but it still differed noticeably from the police view. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, police sources told the Daily News that they were focused on the suspicion that Brinsley was “a member of the Black Guerrilla Family,” a large criminal gang with black nationalist politics, and that the slaying was a consequence of a concerted plot by the gang to “get back at cops for Eric Garner and Ferguson.” The story was quickly debunked — no one could find any connection between Brinsley and the BGF. But it seemed to reveal a basic difference in perspective — that crime is a function not of poverty but of individual pathologies and pathological networks, and that, without continued vigilance, it could still return.

Nearly every New Yorker now lives, in some meaningful way, in a post-peak-crime city marked by gentrification and safety, even in what were very recently very poor neighborhoods. The statistics that de Blasio rattled off at the Ingersoll Houses were astonishing: 80 percent reductions in murder and robberies since the early ’90s. (Perhaps even more amazing is the statistic that the criminologist Frederick Zimring of the University of California-Berkeley likes to cite, that auto thefts have declined by 95 percent.) The mayor is, as my colleague Chris Smith astutely pointed out, lying low right now. But when he reemerges, one way to further de-escalate tension might be to continue in the cooler vein he displayed at Ingersoll: talk about the achievements of the NYPD in reducing crime; about the accomplishments of the last year as the department has scaled back stop-and-frisk while seeing continued declines in violence; about the false choice of the trade-off between security and freedom. He could talk, in other words, less about policing and more about crime, which has the added benefit of giving the police credit for accomplishments so sustained that they have enabled a new approach. The tide that national politicians of all ideologies sensed before Ferguson, of liberalizing attitudes toward punishment, still exists. The stats are all on de Blasio’s side.

 

By: Benjamin Wallace-Wells, Daily Intelligencer, New Tork Magazine, December 30, 2014

December 31, 2014 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Police Violence | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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