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Telling Cops’ Stories

September 7, 2015

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s name was not on the printed program for the annual PBA convention, although he and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton were the featured speakers.

Why the omission? One reason was that union officials feared that if word got out about Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio might order Bratton not to attend. The mayor and the governor are at it again — this time arguing over the city’s handling of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak and the governor’s move not to invite the mayor with other city officials on a trip to Puerto Rico.

Those fears proved baseless. Bratton and his top staff attended the convention. Asked whether the mayor had any Cuomo-related concerns that would have caused him to put the kibosh on his appearance, Bratton did not respond verbally. Instead his expression resembled something between disgust and incredulity at the question. I interpreted his meaning this way: Mayor de Blasio is not Rudy Giuliani.

Unlike Giuliani, de Blasio does not dictate to Bratton. In fact he is ceding as much authority to him on police matters as former mayor Michael Bloomberg did to former police commissioner Ray Kelly. And that’s saying something.

Indeed, de Blasio may have felt out of place at the convention in light of both Cuomo’s and Bratton’s soaring pro-police rhetoric, which cops feel has been wanting from the mayor.

As PBA president Pat Lynch put it to the convention before introducing Cuomo, “We need elected officials who will stand up and support us.”

Cuomo, who received the union’s “Man of the Year” award, while Bratton was named its “Person of the Year,” did just that. Cuomo called being an NYPD cop “the toughest job in the toughest city.”

He spoke of growing up in Queens and of his next door neighbor, a cop whom the governor called one of his heroes. He recalled the city 20 years ago when crime was seemingly out of control. Crime rates plummeted under Giuliani and Bratton, supposedly because of Bratton’s “broken windows” strategy, which called for cracking down on low-level crime to avert bigger ones. 

“You saved the city,” Cuomo said to the cops.

Cuomo also praised what he called “the discipline” of NYPD cops during “provocation” and “aggressive protests.” He did not specify which protests he was referring to. But the largest, which the mayor appeared to support, followed the police “chokehold” death of Eric Garner in Staten Island a year ago. When a deranged black man subsequently assassinated two police officers, many department officials blamed the mayor for creating the climate that led to their deaths.

Bratton spoke of the “the hostile law enforcement rhetoric directed against us,” and said to the cops, “Your story needs to be told and retold.”

He then told of three young cops who captured a carjacker by using a car-tracking app. The suspect, who Bratton said possessed two weapons and had come from North Carolina, had allegedly committed murder and rape. “They stopped a one-man crime wave,” Bratton said.

He also read a letter from a mother, thanking a police officer for saving the life of her son by performing first aid while calling 911 after her son had collapsed of a heart attack at a subway station.

Where does this leave de Blasio? It doesn’t appear that the mayor can make up to the rank and file for his disastrous first year in office. This included his embrace of Al Sharpton after Garner’s death; his support of his wife Chirlane McCray’s aide, Rachel Noerdlinger, despite the anti-cop emails posted by her son and boyfriend; his warning to his biracial son Dante about behaving around cops.

 Although he has repeatedly endorsed “broken windows” in contrast to his political allies who say the strategy targets blacks; and although Bratton has repeatedly said that the mayor has given him everything he has asked for — including 287 more cops than the 1,000 Bratton had sought — the mayor has never bonded rhetorically with the police as Cuomo and Bratton have. At the convention, both of them appeared to speak from the heart.

As far as cops are concerned, the mayor’s heart is elsewhere.

BLACK LIVES MATTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES. In an Friday editorial, the NY Times wrote of the movement ‘Black Lives Matter’ that “the Republican Party and its acolytes in the news media are trying to demonize the protest movement that has sprung up in response to the all-too-common police killings of unarmed African-Americans across the country.”

The editorial then gives a brief history of the country’s racist use of police and the law to brutalize blacks. While this history is all too true, the Times’s coverage of current police killings of unarmed African-Americans sometimes obscures their complexities. Most notable is the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which pushed the “Black Lives Matter” movement into national prominence, with the now iconic chant: “Hands Up. Don’t Shoot.”

In its stories, the Times usually depicts Brown’s killing simply as “an unarmed black man killed by a white police officer.” Hardly ever does the Times add — as the Justice Department, citing forensic evidence, concluded — that Brown attacked the police officer and tried to take his gun before the officer fatally shot him.

And that Brown’s hands were not up.

There is another aspect to these fatal encounters between the police and black victims that often goes unreported: the importance — as Jimmy Hargrove, past president of the NYPD’s Guardian Association of black officers, has pointed out — of the initial words an officer speaks, which could lead to altogether different outcomes. We don’t know what police officer Darren Wilson initially said to Michael Brown when Wilson called him over for walking in the middle of the street. As Hargrove said: “There is difference between saying, ‘Get the fuck out of the middle of the street,’ and ‘Hey, son, it might be better if you walk on the sidewalk.’”

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