One Police Plaza

O’Neill's Peril: Trusting De Blasio

October 24, 2016

Maybe the New York Post got it wrong a couple of years ago when it famously quoted the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, warning her husband he couldn’t trust then-police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Maybe a more accurate rendition was that Bratton warned his successor Jim O’Neill he couldn’t trust Mayor Bill de Blasio.

How else to explain de Blasio’s ramping up O’Neill’s pained and heartfelt cry following the fatal police shooting of Deborah Danner, an emotionally disturbed Bronx black woman, to pile on the NYPD and the sergeant who shot her, exacerbating racial tensions and jeopardizing O’Neill’s relations with his rank-and-file?

“We failed. … There was a person in crisis. ... We were called to that apartment to help someone [and] we ended up killing her,” O’Neill said Wednesday at a breakfast of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City.

A few hours later, de Blasio used O’Neill’s words — which were true, certainly on a cosmic level — to release his logorrheic inner self.

“It’s quite clear that our officers are supposed to use deadly force only when faced with a dire situation, and it is very hard for any of us to see that that standard was met here,” said the mayor, suddenly an expert in police procedure. “The sergeant involved last night had the training; he had the tools to deal with this situation in a different manner. Commissioner O’Neill made this very clear earlier this morning. It was certainly protocol that called for deferring to the Emergency Services Unit — that was not followed. There was obviously the option of using a taser — that was not employed.”

Setting a tone that O’Neill surely did not intend, the mayor concluded, unequivocally: “Deborah Danner should be alive right now. Period.”

Asked Friday whether Danner had struck the sergeant with the baseball bat; how close she stood to him; and whether she had been violent in any of the four previous encounters when cops had been called to her building, O’Neill declined to answer because of the ongoing investigation.

Why then, did O'Neill place the sergeant on modified assignment, stripping him of his badge and gun? Why did the mayor go over the top on him before the investigation was completed?

Meanwhile, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is charged with investigating the deaths of civilians by police, said he would not involve himself in Danner’s case. He said Danner’s baseball bat was a weapon, and the case fell outside his jurisdiction. Instead, it will be investigated by Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clarke. As it was with Brooklyn’s Ken Thompson, it will be her Akai Gurley moment.

Some have compared Danner’s death to that of Eleanor Bumpurs, a mentally disturbed black Bronx woman was fatally shot in 1984 by Officer Stephen Sullivan during an eviction proceeding after she rushed at officers with a 10-inch knife. Ben Ward, the city’s first black police commissioner, called the eviction “dumb” and referred to Bumpurs as “everybody’s grandmother.” Still, he defended Sullivan’s shooting.

Although indicted by then Bronx District Attorney Mario Merola, Sullivan was acquitted by a senior Bronx judge, who shortly afterward retired from the bench. As thousands of demonstrators protested the acquittal outside the courthouse, then-PBA president Phil Caruso said of Merola in what could be viewed as a cautionary warning to O’Neill and de Blasio: “The people still hate you and now we hate you, too.”

SHARPTON EVERMORE. Already, the Danner incident has spawned a second potential crisis. Al Sharpton’s crew said over the weekend that O’Neill would attend a “summit on policing” that the Rev is organizing in the wake of Danner’s shooting. Department officials say O’Neill has not agreed to attend.

If O'Neill does attend he is playing with fire,. If de Blasio orders him to attend, the mayor is playing with fire as well.

. After decades of second-rate Englishmen, Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman selected the Pulitzer-Prize winning newsman he had repeatedly passed over as the paper’s new editor-in-chief: Arthur Browne.

Nobody knows New York City better. As a reporter in the late 1970s, he dismantled much of Staten Island’s political establishment by exposing corruption. In the early 1980s, he followed the bellicose Ben Ward around Police Plaza, never speaking but instead holding out his tape recorder to catch Ward’s fury verbatim. As the paper’s editorial page editor, he headed a team that won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for editorials about first responders sickened by the atomized air at Ground Zero. More recently, he authored a book on the racial travails of the NYPD’s first black cop.

He can also be territorial. He thwarted two top editors at New York Newsday, Don Forst and Deidre Murphy, when they went to the News and helped force their quick departures. When Murphy died a few months later, Browne gracefully [or shamelessly] attended her funeral.

Let’s hope that he can return the News to its city roots after the past couple of years’ shrill and divisive headlines of his predecessor Jim Rich, who Zuckerman fired with no public explanation.

Let’s see how Browne deals with the News’s firebrand columnist Shaun King, who after lamenting the loss of Rich, as “my closest friend here on the staff," turned a quick pivot and wrote,“Thankfully…, we have a great man like Arthur Browne to step into the role of editor in chief.”


Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt