Let’s talk about the police, specifically the NYPD. New York’s finest have not been acting so fine in recent days, disrespecting Mayor Bill de Blasio and residents of the Big Apple in the process.
Now, if the police will openly defy and disrespect their boss and commander in public, can you imagine what they do to black men when the cameras are nowhere in sight?
One of the more conspicuous voices of defiance and disrespect emanating from the NYPD is Patrick Lynch, the leader of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. Following the December 20 execution of police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos by crazed gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley in Brooklyn, Lynch placed the blame for the murders on Mayor de Blasio. Lynch said “There’s blood on many hands tonight,” adding, “That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the Office of the Mayor.” The PBA head also talked of the NYPD becoming a “wartime police department,” as if he is planning a coup, and declaring war against the citizens of New York City, particularly its black residents.
The ultimate humiliation for the mayor came when hundreds of officers turned their backs on him while he spoke at the funeral of Officer Ramos. Meanwhile, the same police who have opposed the anti-police brutality demonstrations chose the funeral of a fallen cop to protest the mayor and call for his ouster, all while drinking in uniform. And on Monday, de Blasio was greeted with boos and jeers as he spoke at the police academy graduation ceremony.
What’s going on here? We must remember why a certain segment of the force is angry at Mayor de Blasio. He has supported the #BlackLivesMatter protests and spoken out on the need for reform in the police department and made this one of his campaign themes. Moreover, as a father of a young black man, he did what any parent would do, which is instruct his son on how to conduct himself when in the presence of the police.
“Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face. A good young man, law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong,” de Blasio said. “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.”
And why would anyone — in this case, police officers — object to the mayor’s heartfelt words, his truth telling, unless they truly lack sensitivity to the challenges facing the black community? Why would they take offense to the mayor unless they carry around a sense of entitlement, a belief they can do whatever they want to whomever they please, and no one should tell them what to do?
The NYPD, like other police departments around the country, suffers from a toxic culture problem and a leadership crisis. And if nothing else is clear, it is most certain the swamp must be drained.
Although some sources would spin the data differently, the fact remains that New York City is a predominantly black and brown city with a majority white police department. And the reactionary culture of that department — based not only on recent events but by years of evidence — is dominated by white working-class bullies who operate through intimidation and with utter contempt for the communities of color they purportedly serve.
For years, through the infamous “stop and frisk” policy, the NYPD maintained an illegal tactic that amounted to the nearly exclusive harassment of black and Latino men. For example, in 2011, of the 685,724 people stopped and questioned by police, around 9 in 10 were members of so-called minority groups.
One former narcotics detective, Stephen Anderson, admitted it was common practice for cops to plant evidence and frame innocent people in order to inflate the arrest stats and meet their quotas. A high-ranking police officer was caught on tape ordering a Latino cop, a whistleblower, to target “male blacks 14 to 21” for stop and frisk because they commit crimes. One federal judge said the force is plagued by “widespread falsification” on the part of arresting officers. The corruption is put into its proper context when one considers that 5 percent of NYPD officers make 4o percent of resisting arrest charges, and 15 percent of cops account for nearly three-quarters of such arrests.
Meanwhile, of the 179 fatalities by NYPD officers over 15 years — 86 percent of whom were black or Latino where information on race was available — only three cases led to indictments, and only one resulted in a conviction. Given these unresolved and unaddressed racial problems in the department, it is no wonder that NYPD Chief of Department Philip Banks — the highest ranking black cop on the force — resigned. And it is no wonder that black officers feel threatened when they are off duty, out of uniform, and racially profiled by their white peers.
“As an officer, I’ve been thrown against the wall. As an officer, I’ve been shown no respect,” said NYPD Officer Adhyl Polanco on Democracy Now! “And I’ve been thrown against the wall off-duty, because…the mentality that Patrick Lynch and many other officers don’t want to hear about. They don’t have to speak to their kids,” he added. Polanco spoke out against stop and frisk and taped department conversations detailing the policy, which punished officers that failed to meet a quota of stops.
Speaking of de Blasio, Polanco said the mayor inherited a police department with many issues: “Mayor de Blasio came with the attitude that ‘I can fix this police department.’ But this police department has a culture that is going to make whoever tried to change that culture and life impossible, including the mayor. It’s absolutely wrong to turn their back on the mayor.”
He elaborated: “How can a parent who has a black child… that [has] seen millions of kids being stopped by stop-and-frisk… how can parents [who] see black kids get killed by police over and over, how can parents that see kids being summonsed illegally, being arrested in their own building for trespassing…not from all officers, because not all officers are the same — how can you not responsibly…have that conversation with your son? You have to.”
Abusive police who unleash violence against black or brown bodies may also do the same to their spouses or girlfriends. According to the National Center for Women and Policing, studies have found between 24 and 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence, making domestic abuse 2 to 4 times more common among law enforcement families than in the general population. Often, these cases are swept under the rug by fellow cops, with few abusive officers arrested, prosecuted or fired, but many promoted.
And it would seem some violent cops have unleashed their hostility and aggression on Mayor de Blasio and black New Yorkers in general. We’ve been down this road before. In September 1992, then-mayoral candidate Rudolph Giuliani participated in a drunken police union protest against the black mayor, David Dinkins. Around 10,000 officers participated in the PBA-led riot on City Hall, hurling racial epithets, beating journalists and blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, incensed that Dinkins would propose an independent civilian agency to investigate police misconduct.
After Giuliani was elected, racism and brutality thrived in the NYPD. Anthony Baez was choked to death in 1994 for hitting a police car with a football. Abner Louima was tortured and sodomized with a broom handle inside a Brooklyn precinct bathroom in 1997, and an unarmed Amadou Diallo was killed in a hail of 41 police bullets outside his home in 1999. Countless others were violated while in police custody, and the city paid out $70 million in awards for police abuse claims between 1994 and 1996 alone.
At their best, police are partners with the community. But at their worst, their actions are reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan. A police leadership that threatens coups and race wars must be replaced, if public confidence in law enforcement is to be restored. Mayor de Blasio must be supported in his quest for reform, but he has his work cut out for him.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove