This Saturday, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were assassinated on on the streets of New York for wearing the uniform that keeps those streets safe. Only one man, a felon who may have been mentally ill, bears responsibility for robbing two young families of their fathers and husbands.
But his heinous act has served to focus attention on the rancid element of the recent anti-police protests that — even when they haven’t included arson and assaults on cops – have been lawless and replete with other hateful sentiments. Just last weekend, some protesters in New York were infamously chanting, “What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want them? Now.”
President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and New York mayor Bill de Blasio have all played their own irresponsible parts; they have all lent moral support to occasionally violent protests.
In Mayor de Blasio’s case, this has created an almost unbridgeable divide between him and New York police officers while inflaming tensions between black communities and the police. As recently as this summer, the majority of black New Yorkers approved of the NYPD’s performance. Approval dropped dramatically after Eric Garner’s death in Staten Island; just recently, de Blasio tied that death to systematic police racism, with no evidence for his intimations. Black communities’ distrust of the police has deep, legitimate roots, but it has been receding for years — as crime has dropped in those same communities, in part thanks to assiduous policing.
Yet as mayor, de Blasio immediately entertained the entreaties of anti-cop activists and has repeatedly given voice to unfounded allegations of racial bias in the police department. The most notorious of his allies is Al Sharpton, a man who has never fully repudiated his once open contempt for cops and our legal system (and who, considering his finances, may privately maintain some of that contempt for legality).
The problems began before de Blasio even looked like a viable candidate in the 2013 mayor’s race. He ran the most anti-cop campaign of the entire Democratic field, repeatedly promising to fire a police commissioner, Ray Kelly, who oversaw falling crime rates and had majority approval among each racial group in New York. De Blasio’s distinguishing campaign message was that the department’s stop-question-and-frisk policies intentionally target New Yorkers of color, featuring in one ad a discussion with his young, black son about that alleged discrimination. (Members of minority populations are stopped at rates lower than the rate at which they commit crime, and live in neighborhoods where more police are and should be stationed.)
De Blasio’s approach amounts to asking thousands of cops to risk their lives every day while slandering their behavior and intentions. That dissatisfaction among the rank and file didn’t reach fever pitch until Saturday is partly a tribute to police commissioner Bill Bratton, who has done well in trying political circumstances.
President Obama has been reading from the same playbook as de Blasio — elevating Al Sharpton himself, extending support to the protests, and operating from the dangerous prima facie assumption that policing in America is systematically biased. His Justice Department, filled with anti-cop lawyers, has dictated the practices of police departments around the country with little or no justification.
There is a kernel of truth to some of President Obama’s and Mayor de Blasio’s comments: Community relations are crucial to policing, and in most places, New York included, they could be better. There are plenty of activists who are working for sensible reforms, and law enforcement is open to them.
Instead, the president and the mayor have alienated law enforcement with sops to radical activists. Communities deserve good policing, and good police deserve cooperative communities. Obama’s and de Blasio’s divisiveness delivers neither.