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“A Scary Culture Change”: What New Law Enforcement Rhetoric Reveals About America

For those who’ve been following the ups and downs (mostly downs) of Bill de Blasio’s relationship with the NYPD, there was little about the officers’ response to the murder of two of their colleagues that was surprising. For a number of reasons, including his vocal opposition to stop-and-frisk and his public alliance with Rev. Al Sharpton, de Blasio was never popular among the force’s rank and file. Even before Officers Liu and Ramos were killed, the head of the cops’ union, the bombastic Patrick Lynch, was urging members to sign a petition asking the mayor not to attend their hypothetical funeral. He also accused de Blasio of foregoing responsible governance in favor of leading “a fucking revolution.” So when he said de Blasio had Liu and Romas’ blood on his hands, it was both heinous and more or less expected.

For many of those less attuned to the city’s politics, however, the patent animosity some officers sent de Blasio’s way was disturbing. New York’s a representative democracy, after all, and de Blasio is the mayor. Don’t the police ultimately work for him? Technically, yes. But the reality is more complicated (a lesson all of de Blasio’s recent predecessors have learned, none more so than David Dinkins). Judging by recent history, and according to the dictates of today’s conventional wisdom, any politician who wants to run New York City not only has to win the most votes, but also has to earn the city polices’ at least grudging acceptance. And by gently criticizing some NYPD practices — as well as revealing that he’s told his African-American son, Dante, to be cautious around law enforcement — de Blasio has seemingly lost the cops’ assent. He may never get it back.

I’d imagine that many people watching the drama unfold from afar are consoling themselves with the thought that, like so much else about the city, the hyper-sensitivity of New York’s police force is unique. They’d be right, at least to a degree; the NYPD stands alone in scale and ambition. But if you listen to some of the rhetoric that’s recently come from police unions and their most loyal politicians, you’ll realize that the problem currently engulfing de Blasio doesn’t end at the Hudson. It extends all across the country, influencing communities large and small, black and (less often) white. The problem isn’t the unions themselves or “bad apples” among the rank and file. The problem is that the culture of law enforcement in America has gone badly off-course; too many officers — and, for that matter, too many citizens — forget that law enforcement’s mandate is to preserve justice as well as maintaining the peace.

You’d think it would be impossible to offer a better illustration of the mentality than Rudy Giuliani’s remarkable 1994 speech on why freedom is about obeying authority. Unfortunately, recent public statements from representatives of powerful police unions in two major American cities indicate that many officers’ privileging of order over justice has only gotten worse. The day after news of Liu and Romas’ murder first broke, the Fraternal Order of Police in Baltimore (where the killer shot an ex-girlfriend before heading to New York) released a statement that made Giuliani’s rhetoric from two decades ago sound positively libertarian. “Once again, we need to be reminded that the men and women of law enforcement are absolutely the only entity standing between a civilized society and one of anarchy and chaos,” the statement said before laying blame for the shooting at the feet of President Obama, Attorney General Holder, Mayor de Blasio and Rev. Al Sharpton (all of whom are either black or have black people in their immediate family). “Sadly,” the union continued, “the bloodshed will most likely continue until those in positions of power realize that the unequivocal support of law enforcement is required to preserve our nation.”

At no point in the press release did the union acknowledge its members’ duty to protect Americans’ rights as well as their persons. There wasn’t even a perfunctory gesture to that effect. Instead, the union statement spoke of “the dangerous political climate in which all members of law enforcement, nationwide, now find themselves” (the rate of officers being killed is at a 50-year low) and how being a member of American law enforcement hadn’t been so bad since the civil rights movement (or, as the union puts it, “the political unrest of the 1960’s”). At the end of the statement, the union reiterated why it believed support for cops must be “unequivocal,” saying that Baltimore citizens must help “to restore the order necessary for their own safety and for ours.” In sum, the union was arguing that American citizens — including politicians — must do what they’re told, lest we fail to “preserve our nation.” The enemies of civilization, apparently, had already broken through the gates.

While the Baltimore union’s statement could hardly be described as subtle, it still paled in comparison to the comments of Jeffrey Follmer, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, whose unvarnished authoritarianism made headlines just last week. Appearing on MSNBC in order to defend his claim that Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins should be forced to apologize for political speech, Follmer told host Ari Melber that the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice was “justified” because the child refused to “listen to police officers’ commands.” Never mind the fact that Rice was shot almost immediately, and that the cop who shot him had a history of rank incompetence; according to Follmer, if “the nation” would simply obey when officers “tell you to do something,” everything would be all right. And if the officers commands are unconstitutional or in any way objectionable? Be quiet and let “the courts … figure it out.” Not content to simply issue commands to those engaged with officers on-duty, Follmer also ordered Hawkins and other athletes like him to “stick to what they know best on the field” because their voicing opinions on police behavior was “pathetic.”

As I said before, these two examples of rabid authoritarianism are striking but far from unique. If you were so inclined, you could spend nearly all day, every day, reading stories in the local and national news of law enforcement agents behaving as if they were exempt from the social contract and the law. And although the reasons why are too various and complicated to untangle in this column, the philosophy of “broken windows” policing — developed initially by followers of neoconservatism, an ideology comfortable with authoritarianism, to say the least — is undoubtedly at least partially to blame. When the emphasis of law enforcement shifts from upholding law to upholding order, it’s inevitable that officers will begin to envision themselves as the only thing standing between “the nation” and the abyss. With the stakes raised to such existential levels, it’s hardly surprising that officers from Baltimore to Cleveland to Ferguson to New York see themselves as beyond the control of a mere politician, not to mention the citizenry itself.

Bill de Blasio and his millions of supporters may think the mayor’s in charge. But it seems that in the minds of a frighteningly large number of police officers, both he and the Constitution are simply getting in the way.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, December 23, 2014

December 26, 2014 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, Law Enforcement, NYPD | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rudy Giuliani Crosses Line On Race”: Why GOP Must Finally Push Back On His Recklessness

Quite appropriately, considering how terrible much of the news this year has been, it looks like the last big story of 2014 will be the horrifying murder of two NYPD officers this weekend by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, an unhappy and mentally unstable 28-year-old man who had a history of trouble with the law and a propensity for violence. Claiming on social media beforehand that he was doing it in the name of avenging Michael Brown and Eric Garner,  Brinsley approached a squad car in Brooklyn on Saturday and pitilessly killed the two unsuspecting officers within before killing himself after a brief attempt to escape. Like Shaneka Thompson, the Air Force reservist and former girlfriend he’d shot in the stomach earlier that day (who is in critical condition but expected to recover), neither Officer Wenjian Liu nor Officer Rafael Ramos was white.

The worst thing about this terrible event is, by far, the fear and pain that has been visited on those who care for Thompson, Ramos and Liu. On a human level, that’s what most matters. But on the level of politics — which occasionally intersects with that of humanity, but far less often than you’d hope — a terrible development was the response. As my colleague Joan Walsh explained already, a truly surprising and disappointing number of high-profile conservatives and Republicans didn’t even wait until the public knew Brinsley’s name before they began using his atrocity for their own, tangentially related purposes. New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association head Patrick Lynch, for example, almost immediately integrated the  attack into his ongoing campaign against Mayor Bill de Blasio. Former Gov. George Pataki, meanwhile, used it to bash de Blasio and test the waters for the latest iteration of his quadrennially threatened (and quadrennially ignored) potential White House run.

Yet even though blaming New York’s mayor for Brinsley’s actions is irrational (and so opportunistic that it borders on the obscene), even more shocking, even more inexcusable, and even more disturbing were the comments from ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The failed presidential candidate and well-compensated consultant to Serbian nationalists trained his fire not so much at Mayor de Blasio as President Obama, whom he charged with fostering an atmosphere that made actions like Brinsley’s seem OK. “We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police,” Giuliani said on Fox News Sunday morning. “The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged,” he continued. Even the peaceful protests, he said, “lead to a conclusion: The police are bad, the police are racist.” Giuliani all but laid the slain officers’ caskets at the president’s feet.

While it should not surprise us that a man who once, in complete earnestness, said “[f]reedom is about authority” thinks all forms of organized dissent against law enforcement are illegitimate, we should be shaken and concerned  by the complete lack of pushback from other elite Republicans that Giuliani’s comments received. Despite the fact that nothing — absolutely, positively nothing — the president said in response to the turmoil in Ferguson or the outrage in Staten Island could be reasonably construed as even tacitly endorsing violence, no high-profile GOPer even tried to scold “America’s mayor” for his brazen claims. In spite of the fact that Giuliani’s comments could only make sense if you accepted a racialized and erroneous subtext  (black protesters and president vs. white police), no Republican publicly disagreed. And when Erick Erickson, predictably, brought Giuliani’s insinuation to the surface, saying Obama “does not like the United States,” the silence remained.

When we think of the ways in which Obama’s most virulent enemies have sought to delegitimize him, to depict him not only as wrong on various issues as well as lacking in character but as fundamentally deceitful and un-American, we conjure up images of the birthers. We think of claims that he’s actually from Kenya and/or Indonesia, that he’s lying about his Christianity and/or as his name. But even though the Democrats, the mainstream media and elements of the Republican establishment have managed to push the birthers to the fringes of the GOP, there’s little reason to think Giuliani, Erickson and others who make arguments like theirs will be ostracized from polite society. That’s a great injustice — because what they’re doing now and what the birthers do is, fundamentally, the same.

Granted, alleging President Obama is on a decades-long mission, which began at the time of his birth, to destroy the United States from within is much more superficially outlandish than alleging that he encourages the murder of police. But both claims, at their essence, depict the president as alien from the rest of American society, as an interloper with nefarious designs. For the birthers, Obama is a secret Muslim or Marxist or lizard (or a combination of all three) who wants to weaken the U.S. in order to implement some shadowy scheme. And for Giuliani and Erickson, he’s a secret radical, a crypto-black nationalist, the New Black Panther Party’s best friend in D.C. He’s not a milquetoast liberal technocrat reformer, but an extremist in camouflage, inciting a race war and the murder of police.

These wild, bigoted fever dreams are dangerous accusations for anyone to excuse or ignore, no matter the target. But they’re especially unacceptable when the accused is the first African-American president of the United States. This country has a long, ugly history of treating people of color — but especially black people — as somehow less than fully American. That’s part of what made Obama’s ascension to the White House so important and extraordinary. The prospect of the country’s first black president being repeatedly accused by his political opponents of stoking a race war and sowing disorder is therefore a scary one; and if it came to pass, it would be a clear step back from where we were as recently as 2008. And this is why it’s imperative that all the key players in the political elite push these sentiments back underground, as they (mostly) did with the birthers.

If they’re serious about wanting to strive for national unity and reconciliation on race in America, Republicans and conservatives need to distance themselves from Erickson and Giuliani’s comments — ASAP.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, December 23, 2014

December 25, 2014 Posted by | NYPD, Racism, Rudy Giuliani | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Law Unto Themselves”: Turning “Law And Order” Into An Idol That Justifies Defiance Of The Law

Being by nature a bit of a communitarian, my civil libertarian muscles are often under-exercised. I’m still having trouble regarding Edward Snowden as my hero. But there is something about men in uniform with guns deciding they do not need supervision that scares even me. Charlie Pierce connects the dots between two recent examples of such insubordination, and its relationship with the principles of the Founders so often cited by Oath-Keeper types who appeal to Higher Laws:

Here’s something interesting about the Declaration of Independence, which we all revere because, you know, freedom. In the long bill of particulars on which the Continental Congress arraigned King George III — and there are 27 counts on that indictment — there’s only one mention of taxes. Rather, every one of the charges, especially the one quoted above, has to do with the illegitimate use by the king, and by his agents in the American colonies, of existing political institutions against the people themselves, either directly (by quartering troops, for example), or by rigging those institutions so they functioned for his benefit and not for the benefit of the people of the colonies. The men who signed the Declaration had long experience with what happens when the legal and political institutions of a state, and the people charged with their operation, suddenly consider themselves above the civil power they are supposed to serve — which, or so said Mr. Jefferson of Virginia, derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. That, they saw, was the true danger to their liberties posed by the government of the colonies at that time.

For the past two weeks, on two different fronts, we have been confronted with the unpleasant fact that there are people working in the institutions of our self-government who believe themselves not only beyond the control and sanctions of the civil power, but also beyond the control and sanctions of their direct superiors. We also have been confronted with the fact that there are too many people in our political elite who are encouraging this behavior for their own purposes, most of which are cheap and dangerous. In Washington, John Brennan, the head of the CIA, came right up to the edge of insubordination against the president who hired him in the wake of the Senate report on American torture. Meanwhile, in New York, in the aftermath of weeks of protests against the strangulation of Eric Garner by members of the New York Police Department, two patrolmen, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were murdered in their squad car by a career criminal and apparent maniac named Ismaaiyl Brinsley. In response, and at the encouragement of television hucksters like Joe Scarborough, police union blowhards like Patrick Lynch, political zombies like George Pataki, and comical fascists like Rudolph Giuliani, the NYPD is acting in open rebellion against Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, and the civil power he represents over them. This is an incredibly perilous time for democracy at the most basic levels.

Just as it is obviously dangerous to allow people beyond the reach of democratic institutions to determine national security needs and the measures taken to address them, it should be obviously reckless to turn “law and order” into an idol that justifies defiance of the law and an anarchic disregard for lines of authority. That way lies Governments of National Salvation and all sorts of despotism in the name of Higher Purposes. It’s bad enough that there are so many Americans who presume their Second Amendment rights include a right of revolution if the government’s policies don’t suit them. It’s worse when you have to wonder if some of the Forces of Order are going to join them.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 23, 2014

December 23, 2014 Posted by | Law Enforcement, NYPD, Police Brutality | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Tragedy And Blame”: Expecting Elected Officials To Violate Their Oaths To Show Unconditional Support For “The Team”

I managed to screen out virtually all news during a weekend of bicoastal travel, shopping, and relative visitation. So now encountering the maelstrom over the murder of two New York City police officers by a crazy person is sad and confusing. But at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf has the right reaction, particularly in terms of the bizarre blame game being played in New York right now:

Early reports suggest that both police officers were well-liked in their communities, though their killings would be tragic and worthy of condemnation in any case. And they are, in fact, being condemned by nearly everyone commenting on the case, which is no surprise: opposition to the murder of police officers is as close to a consensus belief as exists in American politics, culture and life.

The Sergeants Benevolent Association, a group that claims to represent “approximately 12,000 active and retired sergeants of the NYPD,” would have us think otherwise. “The blood of 2 executed police officers is on the hands of Mayor de Blasio,” the group declared in a statement that attempted to exploit these murders to advance their political agenda. In a similarly dishonorable statement, “the president of the city’s largest police union, Patrick Lynch, blamed Mr. de Blasio for the tragedy. The officers’ blood ‘starts on the steps of City Hall,’ he said, ‘in the office of the mayor.’”

And Howard Safir, a former NYPD commissioner, wrote this in Time: “When Ismaaiyl Abdulah Brinsley brutally executed Officers Ramos and Liu he did so in an atmosphere of permissiveness and anti-police rhetoric unlike any that I have seen in 45 years in law enforcement. The rhetoric this time is not from the usual suspects, but from the Mayor of New York City, the Attorney General of the United States, and even the President. It emboldens criminals and sends a message that every encounter a black person has with a police officer is one to be feared.”

Notably, none of these intellectually dishonest statements quote or link to any actual rhetoric spoken by Mayor de Blasio, Eric Holder, or President Obama. That is because none of them has uttered so much as a single word that even hints that violently attacking a police officer, let alone murdering one, would be justified. Suggesting that their words are responsible for this murder is discrediting. Even the weaker claim that their words “embolden criminals” is absurd, both as a matter of logic and as a statement made amid historically low crime rates.

With regard to the particular crime of killing police officers, “the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty-that is, killed with felonious intent by a suspected criminal-plummeted to 27 in 2013, its lowest level in decades.” That is the Obama/Holder record on this issue. We needn’t speculate about whether their rhetoric has proved dangerous for police. We know for a fact that it has not.

Perhaps police officers everywhere (including the New York union officials who have been engaged in tense contract negotiations with representatives of Mayor de Blasio) feel the need to express solidarity with Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo and treat them as identical to Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. That’s disturbing, but at least understandable. But expecting elected officials to do so–to violate their oaths in order to show unconditional support for The Team without regard to the circumstances–is inherently objectionable. As for the pols who are exploiting this situation for partisan purposes and seeking to encourage the police to view themselves as besieged and persecuted and owing no allegiance to civilian authorities? They are disgusting and lawless people promoting true anarchy.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 22, 2014

December 23, 2014 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Police Officers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Flame Throwers And Fire Fighters”: Those Fanning The Flames And Those Trying To Tamp Them Down

It’s obvious that the big story of the day is the murder of two NYC police officers yesterday. I’m always hesitant to comment on a story like this as its unfolding. Its better to wait for all the information, process it, and see what we can draw from it.

But as people are weighing in, there are those that are fanning the flames and those that are trying to tamp them down. For example, in the category of flame throwers.

Rudy Giuliani:

“We’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police,” Giuliani said during an appearance on Fox News on Sunday. “The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged. The protests, even the ones that don’t lead to violence, a lot of them lead to violence, all of them lead to a conclusion. The police are bad, the police are racist. That is completely wrong.”

George Pataki:

Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of #ericholder & #mayordeblasio.

NYPD Union Chief Patrick Lynch:

“There’s blood on many hands tonight. Those that incited violence on the streets under the guise of protest that tried to tear down what NYPD officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated,” Lynch said, according to CBS New York. “That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the office of the mayor.”

And here is what a few of the fire fighters had to say.

President Obama:

I unconditionally condemn today’s murder of two police officers in New York City. Two brave men won’t be going home to their loved ones tonight, and for that, there is no justification. The officers who serve and protect our communities risk their own safety for ours every single day—and they deserve our respect and gratitude every single day. Tonight, I ask people to reject violence and words that harm, and turn to words that heal—prayer, patient dialogue, and sympathy for the friends and family of the fallen.

Attorney General Eric Holder:

I condemn this afternoon’s senseless shooting of two New York City police officers in the strongest possible terms.

This was an unspeakable act of barbarism, and I was deeply saddened to hear of the loss of these two brave officers in the line of duty.

On behalf of all those who serve in the United States Department of Justice, I want to express my heartfelt condolences to the officers’ loved ones and colleagues. I will make available all of the resources of the Department to aid the NYPD in investigating this tragedy.

This cowardly attack underscores the dangers that are routinely faced by those who protect and serve their fellow citizens. As a nation we must not forget this as we discuss the events of the recent past. These courageous men and women routinely incur tremendous personal risks, and place their lives on the line each and every day, in order to preserve public safety. We are forever in their debt.

Our nation must always honor the valor — and the sacrifices — of all law enforcement officers with a steadfast commitment to keeping them safe. This means forging closer bonds between officers and the communities they serve, so that public safety is not a cause that is served by a courageous few, but a promise that’s fulfilled by police officials and citizens working side by side.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York (and AG nominee) Loretta Lynch:

I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of this afternoon’s brutal and senseless attack on two NYPD Officers, and I join Attorney General Holder in expressing my deepest condolences to the families of these fallen heroes…

Today’s assailant struck at the heart of our city — the dedicated officers who pledge their lives to safeguard us all. Today, two have fallen, in a stark reminder of the challenges and risks that our law enforcement officers face every day, both in New York City and throughout our nation.

Let us take this time to grieve with their families, and join the NYPD and all New Yorkers in honoring them for their sacrifice.

Frankly, some of the rhetoric of the flame throwers scares me. I’m sure hoping the fire fighters prevail.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 21, 2014

December 22, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, NYPD, Police Brutality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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