by Avi Davis
It was no real act of disloyalty which caused policemen, guarding the hospital where two New York policemen lay dead, to turn their backs on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio when he arrived to visit this week. The policemen were protesting, in the most emphatic way the law would allow them, the aggressive stance the mayor has taken against his own police force and his apparent support for the rowdy protests which have raged around the city. The protests, some of which turned violent, came in the wake of several verdicts which had exonerated white police officers in killings of black men suspected of crimes.
But the assassinations of officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu by an assailant while merely sitting in their patrol car, has left a dark stain seeping deeply into de Blasio’s administration and a crucial indictment of his leadership. The President of the New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, gave voice to these misgivings when he was quoted describing de Blasio as having the officers’ blood on his hands.
That indictment is not without substance. Since assuming office in December last year, de Blasio has launched a venomous campaign against the New York City Police, who over the past twenty years, under both MayorsMichael Bloomberg and Rudi Guiliani, transformed New York from one of the most dangerous large cities in the western world into one of the safest. The key was the institution of the broken windows policy of policing which holds that maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from occurring. Applied in practice the policy had New York police walking their beats, stopping to check the ID of would be miscreants and investigating petty theft. It also involved targeting certain neighborhoods where crime was likely to occur.
De Blasio had raged against the practice during his mayoral campaign, characterizing it as prejudicial to blacks and he vowed to end it. In this manner he came into direct conflict with William Bratton, the NYPD chief whose views stood firmly by the successful policy.
But in October this year, in the wake of the Eric Garner/Michael Brown protests which erupted in New York , Oakland and Ferguson, his stance became even more radical. He ostensibly praised the protests, declaring them understandable and his sympathy even extended to voicing concern about excessive police action to prevent damage to stores When some of the protesters attacked policemen on the Brooklyn Bridge, his skeptical response, asserting that the attacks were only ‘alleged’ and not proven, seemed to place himself unequivocally on the side of the protesters and not that of his own police force, or the citizenry he had been elected to protect.
In case we forget, metropolitan police forces came into being in 1820s England when ever expanding cities gave birth to a consistent wave of crime. Frightened by this threat to their businesses, shipping merchants on the Thames lobbied for Parliament for an established force which would patrol the boroughs of London and maintain law and order. It is interesting to note that a generation earlier when British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger had sought to introduce a bill which would establish exactly such a force, it was met with instant Parliamentary opposition, the belief being that a police force would be used to suffocate individual liberty by spying on citizens and orchestrating the incarceration of individuals without trial – much like the Gendarmes in pre-revolutionary France had done.
As we have industrialized and the focus of national life has moved from the countryside to our cities, it has become increasingly important for the citizenry to maintain confidence in its police force, assured that it is not a unit committed to spying on the people or protecting special interests but a force determined to maintain law and order. There was never a sense in which the police force would stand aside while law and order was undermined.
That , however, is precisely the impression de Blasio will give the people of New York if he continues to suggest that the black population of his city, from which most crime of New York springs forth, are victims who deserve prioritized protection while the mostly white police and Hispanic force are characterized as their persecutors. New York citizens will eventually come to believe that there is a special class of citizen in their city who can literally get away with murder because they are labelled by the mayor as the true and only victims of racial intolerance.
If this does happen then it is likely that New Yorkers may take matters into their own hands, creating their own armed watch dog groups and even urban militias, much as happened in the early 1800s when the Thames merchants started a private police force designed to patrol and guarantee the safety and security of the waterfront. By 1820, this force had been so successful in the “clean-up” of the crime-infested waterfront that the City felt it had to emulate it by creating a force of its own.
Reinventing the the New York Police Department, one of the toughest and most efficient police forces in the world, should never have been necessary. De Blasio can only blame himself when the maintenance of law and order – one of his most important roles as mayor of New York City, begins to break down on his watch, undermining his progressive agenda.
That might provide a certain measure of poetic justice. But for the people of New York it will only mean a return to the bad old days of the 1970s and 80s when to live in New York City was to live in a state of constant fear.