NYPD Defy Commissioner, Turn Backs On Mayor de Blasio Again

January 5th 2014

A week after NYPD officers turned their backs on New York mayor Bill de Blasio as he spoke at the funeral for fallen police officer Rafael Ramos, handfuls of officers once again protested their mayor on Sunday, turning their backs as he eulogized Wenjian Liu, the other officer killed in the December 20th attack

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton condemned the protests at Ramos' funeral, saying it was "inappropriate," and issued a statement that was to be read to the officers before Liu's funeral that warned against trying to make a political statement. 

[Protesting officers] stole the valor, honor, and attention that rightfully belonged to the memory of Detective Rafael Ramos's life and sacrifice... I issue no mandates, and I make no threats of discipline, but I remind you that when you don the uniform of this department, you are bound by the tradition, honor and decency that go with it.

Turning their backs was an act of protest against de Blasio inspired by the belief that the mayor has not supported them during the turmoil that resulted from the non-indictment of the New York police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner.

“That funeral was held to honor Officer Ramos, and to bring politics or to bring issues into that event, I think was very inappropriate and I do not support it," Bratton told CBS News. "[De Blasio] is the mayor of New York. He was there representing the citizens of New York to express their remorse and their regret at that death."

After the non-indictment, waves of protests have hit New York and other cities. De Blasio has showed sympathy to the protestors' cause for police reform. Many officers, on the other hand, view the protests as "anti-police" and see de Blasio siding with people who hate cops

Bratton did admit that police officers feel embattled.

 "They really do feel under attack, rank-and-file officers and much of American police leadership," Bratton told NBC News. "They feel that they are under attack from the federal government at the highest levels. So, that's something we need to understand also, this sense of perception that becomes a reality."

Here's a video of what happened at the funeral in New York:

Meanwhile, in Nashville, Police Chief Steve Anderson released a letter to Nashville police officers calling for understanding and empathy toward protestors.

"As imperfect humans, we have a tendency to limit our association with other persons to those persons who are most like us," Anderson wrote. "It is only when we go outside that comfort zone, and subject ourselves to the discomfort of considering thoughts we don’t agree with, that we can make an informed judgment on any matter.  We can still disagree and maintain our opinions, but we can now do so knowing that the issue has been given consideration from all four sides. Or, if we truly give fair consideration to all points of view, we may need to swallow our pride and amend our original thoughts."

Ok so what exactly did de Blasio say that angered New York police officers? How has he not supported them?

It seems that there are a couple issues.

There is a general feeling that de Blasio has shown too much sympathy for protestors, who the police believe are marching for an "anti-police" cause. After the non-indictment in the Garner case, de Blasio called for reform in the police department.

“Fundamental questions are being asked, and rightfully so,” he said in The New York Times. “The way we go about policing has to change.”

A particular sticking point for officers is de Blasio's comment at a Dec. 3 press conference after the Garner non-indictment. De Blasio discussed the fear in black communities that encounters with police could lead to death. He went on to say he worries about his biracial son, Dante, facing a dangerous encounter:

This is profoundly personal for me. I was at the White House the other day, and the President of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said, I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens. I said to him I did. Because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years, about the dangers he may face. A good young man, a law-abiding young man, who would never think to do anything wrong, and yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face—we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.

Pay particular attention to the bolded text where de Blasio hits on a black parenting theme that we have seen a number of times since the deaths of Garner, Mike Brown, and even as far back as Trayvon Martin. The idea is that black parents must instill in their black sons extreme caution while interacting with police. Here's an example of "the talk" that ran in Gawker:

It was the last day of school, and I was walking with my dad, preparing to leave. Suddenly, [my dad] paused, looked at me intently and said, "Son, you're a black male, and that's two strikes against you." To the general public, anything that I did would be perceived as malicious and deserving of severe punishment and I had to govern myself accordingly.

I was seven years old.

The police resented the remark, saying that the mayor was effectively throwing them under the bus. Police, naturally, reject the notion that they treat black men differently or more harshly. 

In response, many officers signed a petition requesting that de Blasio not attend their funerals in the event they die on-duty.

Fast forward to last weekend. It was amidst this tension that a man, who had already that day shot ex-girlfriend Sheneka Thompson, ambushed and killed Ramos and Liu. The police union blamed de Blasio's rhetoric for the murders, going so far as to say that de Blasio has "blood on his hands." (See video below.)

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani echoed those sentiments, laying the blame for these deaths on President Obama as well as on de Blasio:

“We’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police,” Giuliani told Fox News. “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.”

Giuliani believes de Blasio should apologize to the NYPD.

Is there a problem with police protesting the mayor? Don't they have First Amendment rights?

Given the dangers inherent to being a police officer—and the extent to which most cops are trying to do the best they can—it’s actually understandable that cops are a little angry with official and unofficial criticism. But they should know it comes with the territory. For all the leeway they receive, the police aren’t an inviolable force; they’re part of a public trust, accountable to elected leaders and the people who choose them. And in the same way that police have a responsibility to protect and secure the law, citizens have a responsibility to hold improper conduct to account. -- Jamelle Bouie, Slate

If you're like me, you're uncomfortable with the police officers' actions because they seem to imply that police officers are above criticism -- even from their bosses. Yes, Mayor de Blasio is their boss. They work for him. Further, de Blasio himself is elected by the people of New York City, and thus he works for those people. So, when the police turn their backs on de Blasio, they are also turning their backs on the people of New York. They are saying they won't tolerate criticism about job performance even when criticism is perfectly reasonable here given that police action led to the death of Eric Garner. This could create a dangerous precedent where mayors fear criticizing their police force.

It's true that the police have First Amendment rights. They can express those rights. But their position on this issue is fairly rigid and possibly dangerous.

Police officers are not actually listening to what the protestors and politicians are saying

The police believe the protestors are "anti-police" and are encouraging violence against cops. The protestors say they just want more effective policing. This disconnect is at the root of the problem between de Blasio and his police force.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar summed it up well, though. Anyone who thinks these protests were "anti-police" protests is misunderstanding the issue:

In a Dec. 21, 2014 article about the shooting, the Los Angeles Times referred to the New York City protests as “anti-police marches,” which is grossly inaccurate and illustrates the problem of perception the protestors are battling. The marches are meant to raise awareness of double standards, lack of adequate police candidate screening, and insufficient training that have resulted in unnecessary killings. Police are not under attack, institutionalized racism is. Trying to remove sexually abusive priests is not an attack on Catholicism, nor is removing ineffective teachers an attack on education. Bad apples, bad training, and bad officials who blindly protect them, are the enemy. And any institution worth saving should want to eliminate them, too.

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