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“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

“Resetting The Default Button”: The NYPD Is Using Fear As A Weapon In The “War On Cops” Crackdown

The New York Post‘s Christmas edition carried a red, but hardly festive banner on its front page: “War on Cops.” The hyperbole aptly captures the perspective of the New York Police Department, which indeed has behaved like it’s at war since officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were murdered in their patrol car last week. Patrick Lynch, the head of the city’s largest police union, declared that there’s “blood on many hands,” specifically “those who incited violence under the guise of protests” and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Another police union has advised its members to remain armed even when they’re off duty and to keep a low profile on the street and online.

Never mind that the dead killer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, had a long history of mental illness and had shot his ex-girlfriend in Maryland before traveling up to NYC. The only relevant fact, it seems, is that Brinsley had forecast his actions by posting a photo of a pistol on Instagram with the phrase “They Take 1 Of Ours… Let’s Take 2 of Theirs” and hashtag references to Eric Garner and Michael Brown. That’s all the evidence that Lynch, the Post, and their ilk need that there’s a war on copsand that police must respond in kind.

The week after Ramos and Liu’s deaths has seen more than 40 threats against the NYPD, with seven arrests in connections with those threats, the department’s media office said Friday. One of those arrested, Devon Coley, an 18-year-old facing separate assault and weapons charges, posted on Facebook a photopossibly from a movieof a man firing a pistol into the driver’s side of a police car. He wrote “Nextt73,” an apparent reference to his local police precinct in Brooklyn, and punctuated it with emojis of a cop with a pistol by his head.

Under normal circumstances, that vague, semipublic comment might be reason for police to contact Coley for a conversation. But in these “blood on the hands” times, the NYPD is making it known that it will treat all threats as deadly serious. For his Facebook post, Coley faces up to seven years in prison. Brooklyn’s district attorney, Ken Thompson, told the Post that his request for $250,000 bail in the case fit the charge of making terroristic threats. (New York statute defines it as an actual threat that inspires “a reasonable expectation or fear” that a specified crime will happen.) While acknowledging that what Coley did was “stupid” and an “incredible inflammatory thing to do right now,” Circuit Judge Laura Johnson concluded, “I think that for me to set bail because of the current climateit would be a misuse of bail.”

NYPD’s strong reaction does seem justified in at least one case: An informant with ties to Black Guerilla Family gang overheard talk of shooting up the stations, sources told DNAinfo, prompting two precincts to post heavily armed officers outside. But actual arrests have made for a less-than-ominous roundup. A Queens man was overheard talking on his phone about killing police; after receiving a tip, police searched his place and found guns, brass knuckles, and pot paraphernalia. A Manhattan man called Ramos and Liu’s old precinct in the middle of the night and claimed to be Brinsley, saying he’d like to kill more cops. Two men were arrested for making false reports of other people making threats. One Staten Island teenager wrote “kill the cops” on Facebook. And Jose Maldonado, 26, posted the same shooting photo Coley did, musing he “might just go out and kill two cops myself!!!” He surrendered to police and apologized, saying he was drunk. That didn’t save him from a trip to Riker’s after being arraigned on charges of terroristic threatening.

The NYPD understandably takes even drunken rants seriously, given Brinsley’s Instagram message. But throwing terroristic-threat charges at Facebook users who walk themselves into police stations when police contact them, as both Coley and Maldonado did, cheapens the very notion of terror. It might also make their jobs a whole lot harder in the coming weeks and months.

A basic principle of good policing holds that officers in the field should seek to de-escalate, rather than intensify, tension and use of force. (Police escalation of force was instrumental in many if not all the recent deaths that have sparked nationwide protests.) Yet thousands of New York’s finest created a political spectacle at Ramos’ funeral Saturday by turning their backs on the mayor during his eulogy. And while it’s Lynch’s job to antagonize the sitting mayor when his union is in protracted contract negotiations with the city, it’s also his job to represent police to the city. Cranking up the heat, especially at funerals, does police no favors. Even NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has started pointing fingers, saying on the “Today” show that the “targeting of these two police officers was a direct spinoff of this issue of these demonstrations.”

Connecting peaceful demonstrators to a cop-killer has had its presumably intended effect. The New York Times on Friday reported that the killing of Ramos and Liu has opened rifts in the protest movement in New York. “It is wrong to connect the isolated act of one man who killed NYPD officers to a nonviolent mass movement,” Joo-Hyun Kang, the executive director of Communities United for Police Reform, told the paper. But conflating a call to end police violence with violence against police, contradictorily or not, has worked in City Hall. The Times quoted Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who earlier in December exhorted her colleagues to repeat “I can’t breathe” in memory of Garner’s last words, now calling “to end hateful and divisive rhetoric which seeks to demonize officers and their work.”

At the protests I saw two weeks ago, no one was demonizing officers’ work: The overwhelming mass of people were calling for police simply to do their jobs better, to avoid unnecessary deaths. The very inspiration for these protests was police overreaction, and yet here we are, charging nitwits with terroristic threats. Maybe this is how the NYPD de-escalates situations after all: By corralling elected officials and prosecutors, and letting the city know fear will now be the default. New York needs its cops to keep cooler heads. “Stop resisting” may be practical advice during an arrest, but it makes for contemptible politics.

 

By: Sam Eifling, The New Republic, December 28, 2014

December 29, 2014 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Police Brutality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“Some Profoundly Un-American Responses”: The False Choice Of Protesting For Justice And Supporting Our Police

I’m one of the millions of New Yorkers who woke up heartbroken today thinking of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos who were shot dead yesterday while sitting in their car in Brooklyn by Ismaaiyl Brinsley.

As the news unfolded, we learned the briefest details of the two men’s lives such as the fact that Liu was married just two months ago, and that Ramos has a wife and a 13 year old son who “couldn’t comprehend what had happened to his father”, according to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio who met with the families before a press conference last night. I offered prayers for the men, and their widows and son.

Liu and Ramos were not the only victims of Brinsley’s deadly rampage yesterday. Earlier that day, the Atlanta resident had allegedly shot his former girlfriend in Maryland, who apparently now is in “serious condition“. After killing the two police officers, Brinsley fled and apparently killed himself in a nearby subway station.

The assassinations come at a particularly tense moment in America. Recent deaths of black citizens at the hands of police in Ferguson, Cleveland and here in New York have sparked protests and calls for investigation of racism within our policing and criminal justice system. I have been part of those protests. One week ago, I was in Washington, D.C. along with thousands of other Americans of all ages, races and religions who came together in peaceful protest and to listen to the mothers and wives of those men whose lives had been lost.

Never once did I hear any suggestion of violence against the police either in the march or from the microphone. The consistent call was to work with our elected officials, courts and police departments to improve our criminal system. The goal of this movement is justice — its means are non-violent, prophetic action. When I heard the news about the Ramos and Liu killings, I prayed that it was not linked in any way to the peaceful protests that I had been a part of.

But horrifically, the assassin made the connection himself.

He wrote on an Instagram account: “I’m putting wings on pigs today, They take 1 of ours, let’s take 2 of theirs #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGardner #RIPMichaelBrown”.

dontrunup

When I saw that I felt sick. And even sicker because the post had 17 Likes, meaning that 17 people read this obviously violent post and supported it and urged him on. And now they have blood on their hands as well.

Unfortunately, the person NYC Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch blamed was not Ismaaiyl Brinsley, or any accomplices that may have known about his alleged intention to kill his ex-girlfriend and two police officers. Instead, he, Pataki, Giuliani and and other pundits declared that the people to blame were Obama, Holder, de Blasio and all those who have been involved in the nation wide protests.

“There’s blood on many hands tonight,” Lynch said last night, “That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor.” Lynch went on to blame those who “incited violence on the street under the guise of protest.”

I guess he means me?

The response Lynch and some conservative commentators have had to the horrific killing of these two police officers and the alleged attempt to kill a woman is profoundly un-American. It is meant to chill any criticism or efforts to improve our country and only serves to divide an already deeply divided country and to increase tensions in an already tense time.

Instead of having the deaths of Liu and Ramos further tear us apart, could this serve as a moment of bringing us together? Liu and Ramos are reminders to any who would demonize the police, that our law enforcement is made up of people of all races and backgrounds, who have families and who feel called to this duty to protect and serve.

The families of Eric Garner and Michael Brown were among the first to condemn the killing of Ramos and Liu last night. The protests around the #BlackLivesMatter movement was never against the police, but it was a call to acknowledge that we can do better as a society that continues to bear the scars of racism.

That effort must continue; we can and must do better as a nation. But it will only be successful if everyone comes together and recognizes one another as human beings, deserving of respect, dignity and life.

Instead of pitting the deaths of Liu and Ramos against Garner and Brown, we can join them together, understanding them as martyrs who inspire us on both sides of the blue line to work for a more just, safe and united America.

 

By: Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Executive Religion Editor, The Huffington Post, December 21, 2014

 

December 22, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Law Enforcement, NYPD | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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