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Eric Garner: Race and Race Baiting

July 28, 2014

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says race wasn’t a factor in the death of Eric Garner, a six-foot-three-inch, 350-pound black man who died, possibly from a department-banned chokehold, as officers arrested him for selling “loose” cigarettes in Staten Island.

Yet race has been at the unspoken heart of virtually every public discussion following Garner’s death. Some Mayor Bill de Blasio supporters who had opposed Bratton as commissioner are now calling for his resignation.

Others want to modify or end Bratton’s “broken windows” policy — that going after quality-of-life crimes prevents more serious crimes — saying it unfairly targets black New Yorkers. Some have called broken windows the new stop and frisk.

De Blasio’s campaign rhetoric — specifically his attacks on stop and frisk as targeting young black men — have resonated with many black New Yorkers, who view the police differently from many of their white counterparts. By and large, most white Americans trust the police. Most black Americans do not.

Over the past 40 years, New York City has experienced its share of racially polarizing police incidents. In the 1970s, the Black Liberation Army killed or wounded six police officers. In 1972, Police Officer Philip Cardillo was fatally shot inside a Harlem mosque. In 1988, Larry Davis, a 20-year-old black man wanted in several slayings, shot six white cops — and was applauded as he surrendered by residents of the Bronx housing complex where he was holed up.

The police have also killed innocent black people, including 10-year-old Clifford Glover in Queens in 1973, 15-year-old Randolph Evans in Brooklyn in 1976, 25-year-old Michael Stewart in Manhattan in 1983, 29-year-old Anthony Baez in the Bronx in 1994, and 22-year-old Amadou Diallo in the Bronx in 1999.

And there have been fatal shootings of black plainclothes officers by other officers. In 2009, officer Andrew Dunton fired at off-duty cop Omar Edwards, whom Dunton had mistaken for a criminal as Edwards pursued a suspect.

At the same time, there is what Benjamin Ward, the city’s first black police commissioner, called “our dirty little secret": Most crime in New York — particularly violent crime — is committed by black New Yorkers against black New Yorkers.

For the past three decades, nobody has been more racially polarizing in New York City than Al Sharpton, who rose to prominence defending Tawana Brawley, a black teenager who falsely claimed she had been raped by Ku-Klux-Klan-like hooded white men. Despite never apologizing for accusing then-Assistant District Attorney Steven Pagones of raping Brawley; despite refusing to pay his share of Pagones’s $345,000 award for being libeled by him; despite being exposed as a former FBI informant, de Blasio has embraced him.

While the mayor enjoyed La Dolce Vita during a ten-day vacation last week, Sharpton has taken center stage on the Garner case. He has led demonstrations. He has contacted the Justice Department in Washington about prosecuting the officer in Garner’s case, Daniel Pantaleo, for civil rights violations. He has met with federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, and announced he would meet with Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan about deferring his possible prosecution of Pantaleo to the Justice Department.

Sharpton was also Garner’s featured eulogist at Brooklyn’s Bethel Baptist church. [Another was the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, who 30 years ago led protests following the police shooting of Eleanor Bumpers after she attacked an officer with a kitchen knife in her apartment during an eviction proceeding.]

Sharpton has also said he was in regular cell phone contact with de Blasio while he vacationed in Italy. While much of this may be posturing, Sharpton appears to be well-positioned. Could he persuade or pressure the mayor to change his stance on Bratton, in whom the mayor says he has full confidence? Or on broken windows, which the mayor says he fully supports?

You can bet de Blasio will be asked whether the enforcement of minor crimes such as selling untaxed cigarettes warranted Garner’s takedown. If he and Bratton disagree, things could become very interesting.

. The Daily News went big with the discovery that bleached U.S. flags had been placed atop the Brooklyn Bridge.

Besides its up-front news stories and a lead editorial, headlined “No flagging on terror,” the paper added a small box that read: “There’s no way anyone should be able to scale one of the top terror targets in the world without the police noticing. Bratton must make changes.”

Was it just two years ago the News reported that a graffiti artist had somehow been able to climb one of the bridge’s stanchions 119 feet over the East River and tag his name, “Lewy BTM” in three places?

Its story in the summer of 2012 made no mention of terrorism or of the apparent breach of security under former police commissioner Ray Kelly and his head of Intelligence, David Cohen.

Instead, the News kissed off the graffiti story in a few paragraphs toward the back of the paper and treated it as, well, a graffiti story. [See NYPD Confidential, July 9, 2012.]

Coupled with its over-the-top news story and editorial earlier this year, blasting Bratton’s anti-terrorism head John Miller as a dilettante, unworthy of holding Cohen’s coat, it’s easy to conclude from the News’s recent flag-terror story that it treats the Brooklyn Bridge differently under Bratton and Miller than it did under Kelly and Cohen. [Ever the show-boater, Miller climbed to where the white-washed flags had been placed, which no self-respecting Intelligence man like Cohen would have done.]

NYPD Confidential, however, chooses to follow the dictum of Alice McGillion, the wise former NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information who, when reporters saw conspiracies where none existed, often said: “Never underestimate incompetence.”

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