By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
The assassination of two New York cops has reopened a debate about how a police department, often under fierce political strains, can deal with a civilian authority of elected officials.
New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton took to the airways Tuesday morning to defend his department as some disgruntled police and Mayor Bill de Blasio called a truce in their battle over responsibility for the shootings and recent anti-police protests to allow New York to mourn its dead.
“We’re in a very difficult place at the moment,” Bratton said on CBS This Morning, adding, “in the sense of officers’ feelings about the demonstrations, about the anti-police mood that seems to be sweeping the country of late, and it’s not easy being a cop in America today, the dangers that still exist despite crime having gone down fairly dramatically over the last 20 years.”
Bratton, whose city is mourning the weekend shootings of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, defended both his department and the man who rehired him, de Blasio, whose standing with police has never been high and has ebbed in the last year as programs such as stop-and-frisk were ended.
“It’s a tough job, as we’ve seen, in some instances, a thankless job,” Bratton said. “Despite that, I’ll speak for my city — they’ve done a remarkable job, they’re keeping crime down, they’ve been restrained when face-to-face with demonstrators, you know, ‘Kill the cops’ and the language that’s directed at them.”
Bratton was referring to a series of demonstrations that began when a grand jury decided not to indict a Ferguson police officer in the shooting of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown. The demonstrations accelerated when a Staten Island grand jury late last month decided not to indict a New York officer who used a chokehold to subdue Eric Garner, an unarmed African-American man. Garner died after the confrontation.
In the series of demonstrations, some protesters reviled city police. Breakaway demonstrators clashed on the Brooklyn Bridge on Dec. 13 and several officers, including two police lieutenants were injured, scraping nerves even more raw.
Bratton said the NYPD has ramped up security measures, including directing officers to work in teams and suspending auxiliary patrols, while investigators learn more about cop killer Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who committed suicide after fleeing the shooting scene in Brooklyn on Saturday.
In the case of Brinsley, Bratton said the NYPD is investigating questions including “where did he get his money? Who does he hang out with? He doesn’t seem to have been employed; he’s a couch crasher as they call it. He doesn’t seem to have a residence, he just crashes on somebody’s couch. But he did seem to have money — cash in hundred dollar bills. So we’re checking very closely all of his relationships. What was his world like?”
Aside from the investigative details of the shooting, the political fallout remains a question. The current truce to allow funerals for the slain officers will expire and de Blasio and union leaders will have to develop a working relationship, especially because union contracts will be negotiated this year.
At a news conference on Monday, Bratton challenged the media, who were questioning him and the mayor about City Hall’s relations with police.
“Can you point out to me one mayor who has not been battling with police unions in the last 50 years? Name one,” Bratton said. “The experience of this mayor of some cops not liking him, it’s nothing new.”
New York has often been the scene of fierce battles between its elected officials and public employees, especially police. Changes in the department to make it more accountable to civilian officials have led to problems.
For example, in 1992, when then-Mayor David Dinkins was pushing for a more independent civilian complaint review board, thousands of off-duty cops demonstrated at City Hall. The protest quickly turned into a riot where cops hurled racial epithets at the city’s African-American mayor.
Rudolph Giuliani, then just a contender, was famously present to back the unruly cops against the Dinkins administration, helping solidify his reputation as a crime fighter by visibly supporting police. Giuliani, now a private security consultant, has also been recently visible on television backing police.
De Blasio repeatedly says that he is not anti-police, but elements in his department dispute that. They complain about his comments in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury decision.
“This is profoundly personal for me,” de Blasio said a Dec. 3 news conference about the grand jury action. De Blasio is married to a black woman and they have a teenage son, Dante, whose image captivated New York during the mayoral campaign.
The mayor said he and his wife, Chirlane McCray, saw the crisis over how police operate in the minority community through a personal lens “because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years, about the dangers he may face. A good young man, a law-abiding young man, who would never think to do anything wrong, and yet, because of a history that still hangs over us … we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.”
The police also fault de Blasio for not speaking out against the demonstrators, especially when they shouted anti-cop slogans.
“There’s blood on many hands tonight,” Patrolman’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said late Saturday after the shootings. “Those that incited violence on this street under the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day.
“We tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated,” Lynch said. “That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.”
Meanwhile, the city continued to prepare for the funerals set to begin to this weekend.
Officer Ramos is scheduled to be buried on Saturday. Arrangements for Liu are pending.
Liu’s wife, Pei Xia Chen, gave a tearful statement to reporters Monday evening.
“This is a difficult time for both of our families,” she said, expressing her condolences to Ramos’ widow and children. “But we will stand together and get through this together.”
AFP Photo/Spencer Platt