Policing the Police

There is quite a mess brewing in New York City between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD. First there was the death of Eric Garner after a confrontation with the police over selling untaxed cigarettes. This was a more ambiguous situation than the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in that Mr. Garner had not physically attacked the police officers attempting to arrest him. He was resisting arrest, however, and the grand jury declined to issue indictments against any of the officers involved, probably reasoning that they had not intended to harm Mr. Garner and were only restraining him. Naturally, there were protests in New York, over this and Mayor de Blasio, who had run on a platform of restraining certain police procedures considered objectionable, seemed to side with the protesters, even after they were heard chanting that they wanted dead cops, and two cops were indeed killed. Many officers of the NYPD, especially the president of their union, Patrick Lynch, have come to believe that Mayor de Blasio is against them and they have been pointedly showing disrespect for the mayor and refusing to write tickets. As I said, a mess.

It is foolish and dangerous to take a blindly anti-cop position. The police have a difficult and often dangerous job that is necessary to maintain law and order. Those protesters may have cause to regret their wish for dead cops if they find themselves in the sort of anarchy that might result if the police decide not to do their jobs anymore. A police officer sometimes has to take action quickly on the basis of limited and conflicting information. For this reason, it is wise to be careful about second guessing an officer’s actions in a given situation. It is easy enough to state that he should have done this or that in the comfort of your own home. The officer may not have had the leisure to carefully examine the situation and ponder the best course to take. He must decide quickly if a situation warrants the use of force and he may well pay for a mistake with his life. It is for this reason that grand juries give the police a lot of slack.

At the same time, it is also foolish and dangerous to take a blindly pro-cop position. The police are not angels but human beings and subject to all the follies and iniquities as any other group of human beings. Great power is given to the police in order for them to do their jobs. If a violent suspect resists arrest, a police officer can use deadly force to prevent him from harming the officer or any civilians in the area. Being human, any police officer will be tempted to abuse his power and authority. We must be careful not to let that happen. The police must not be above the law. They must not have a license to kill or to steal. The police must not be worse than the criminals. An officer who abuses his power must be held accountable.

This is why I cannot altogether approve of the actions of the officers of the NYPD. It is gratifying to watch the progressive de Blasio founder as he discovers that his socialist ideology doesn’t work all that well when trying to run a great city, but there are larger issues here. Some have suggested that de Blasio should resign because he has lost the confidence of the NYPD. De Blasio was elected mayor in a fair and free election, as far as I know. This decision by the people of New York City may have been an unfortunate one, but it was their decision to make. The police department does not exercise a veto over the people’s choice, nor can they effectively go on strike by refusing to enforce the law. I can understand their frustration but the public’s safety must be the first priority, even if members of the public are not particularly grateful for the service rendered. I am afraid that the shows of disrespect for the mayor will only make it more difficult for the police and the mayor to resolve their differences and work together to run New York City. For his part, Mayor de Blasio needs to make some effort to show that he understands the difficulties that the average patrolman faces on the job. He has to somehow assure the NYPD that he can be trusted to stand up for them when things get tough. At the very least, he ought not to publicly associate with rabble rousers and criminals like Al Sharpton ( I will not call that scoundrel Reverend)  and he really shouldn’t make public statements implying that his biracial son is in danger from the police because of his race.

Calming a turbulent city is a task that will require tactful and patient leadership on every side. Too bad New York City doesn’t have that just now.