One Police Plaza

Blacks and Police: No Winners Here

October 26, 2015

It seems you can’t win with the police if you are black.

After a year and half of national reporting on police killings of African-Americans, some of them caught on camera, FBI Director James Comey said last week that too much scrutiny and criticism of the police may be leading to higher crime rates in black communities because cops are hesitant to confront criminals.

It seems you also can’t win if you’re a cop. Even when cops have acted appropriately, the media continues to report, as it does of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, that police shot and killed an unarmed black man. But, according to the not particularly police-friendly Justice Department, Brown had attacked the officer who shot him and tried to get the officer’s gun.

So hysterical on the subject is the editorial board of the nation’s most influential media outlet, the New York Times, that, after NYPD cop James Frascatore tackled the biracial tennis star James Blake in an apparent case of mistaken identity, it called for Frascatore’s firing. In its news pages, stories regularly describe Brown’s death as that of an unarmed black man shot by police.

According to NYPD officials, the consequences of such reporting — which in some law enforcement quarters is known as the “Ferguson effect” — is an increasingly aggressive attitude by African-Americans toward the police. Take the July 26 column by the Times’s Charles Blow in the jail-cell suicide case of Sandra Bland, following her arrest in Texas following a minor traffic violation. Describing her confrontation with the officer who stopped her, Blow wrote, “How dare a black person not bow in obsequiousness? The officer’s irritation seemed to build in direct response to Bland’s unwavering defiance. She refused to break, crumble and cry. She refused to express her fear. She challenged his authority, his character and his expression of masculinity.”

Whatever the merits of her traffic stop, such behavior toward a cop does not presage a positive outcome.

Meanwhile, much of the media seems unwilling to address the violence in urban black communities, which occasionally spills out against the police. The most recent example is the fatal shooting of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder, the fourth city cop killed in the past 11 months.

Where is the outrage by black politicians against those killers of other blacks? Where was the outrage following the killing of Carey Gabay, the 43-year-old first deputy counsel to the Empire State Development Corporation, last month, on the eve of Brooklyn’s West Indian Day parade, which has long been a source of violence?

Did either former Gov. David Paterson or Brooklyn Rep. Hakeem Jeffries call for demonstrations? Did either demand accountability from parade organizers?

Where, for that matter, was their outrage over the death of Officer Holder, who is black?

Compare Paterson’s silence and Jeffries's muted response over Gabay’s death to those that followed the police “chokehold” death of Eric Garner on Staten Island in 2014 when Paterson said, “We will not stop until someone goes to jail.”

Said Jeffries: “The only way we will be satisfied is if the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner will be convicted and sent upstate.” [See NYPD Confidential, Aug. 25, 2014.]

Subsequently acquitted by a grand jury in the Garner case, Officer Daniel Pantaleo remains on desk duty, pending the results of a Justice Department civil rights investigation. Asked its status last week, a Justice Department spokeswoman, Dena Iverson, said only that the probe is “ongoing.” Because the investigation has gone on for more than a year, there is speculation in the NYPD that the Justice Department has concluded that no civil rights violation exists and that, like Ferguson, officials will call for police reforms rather than an indictment.

Meanwhile, fatal police encounters with African-Americans continue. Last weekend in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Officer Nouman Raja pulled up behind Corey Jones, a black musician whose car had broken down in the middle of the night. Raja was in plainclothes. Jones possessed a legally registered handgun. God only knows what happened next.

Except that Raja fired six times and Jones was dead.


Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt