The Campaign Spot

Just What Is the ‘Appropriate’ Way for Police to React to Mayor de Blasio?

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Just What Is the ‘Appropriate’ Way for Police to React to Mayor de Blasio?

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, Sunday:

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said it was “very inappropriate” for police officers to turn their backs to video screens showing Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at an officer’s funeral Saturday.

Rudy Giuliani, Sunday:

Giuliani said, “The mayor is not in any way to be treated with people turning their backs. It doesn’t matter whether you like the mayor or you don’t like the mayor, you have to respect the mayor’s position.”

Yes, the NYPD officers acted in a disrespectful manner when they turned their backs to the mayor. It’s disrespectful because a lot of men and women on the police force do not respect the mayor — right now, and sadly, for the foreseeable future. This was not an accidental faux pas; this was the clearest way to send the signal, “Despite the fact that you are in the city’s highest elected office, we don’t respect you.”

Let’s begin by saying that any NYPD officer reacting to the news that two of his brother officers were gunned down in cold blood deserves a wide berth in processing all of the emotions from that horrific event. There’s a lot of anger in the force, and they’ve got good reasons to be angry. A symbolic gesture like this might be a particularly powerful and not destructive way of channeling that anger.

“Respect the office, not the man.” Boy, some elected officials make this simple request difficult.

Just how contemptuous of others can an elected official behave before he’s no longer automatically entitled to “respect”? Can we all agree that an elected official can do something or say something that abrogates the requirement that other people show that respect? I’m sure we can all think of particularly vivid examples . . . 

“Meow!”

(In case you’ve forgotten, the details of Representative David Wu’s erratic behavior and psychiatric troubles can be found here.)

Why are we asked to “respect the office” of mayor, president, or other elected official? Do custom and tradition and civic life really ask us to greet every action of every elected official with “respect”?

Our system allows for the impeachment of presidents and other elected officials. Is that really “respectful”? Or is an impeachment an act of respect for the office, to decide that a particular individual, through criminal or other supremely unethical behavior, must be removed, because letting him stay will damage that office and the public’s respect for it?

If that’s the case, respect for the individual occupying high office isn’t automatic, compulsory, or reflexive. It is conditional — given in broad conditions, encompassing mere political disagreement or personality conflicts. But that respect can be revoked, given sufficient provocation.

Let’s go back to what de Blasio said after the grand-jury decision in the Eric Garner case:

I was at the White House the other day, and the President of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said, I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens. I said to him I did. 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, the dangers he may face — 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.

And that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first — that our police are here to protect us, and we honor that, and at the same time, there’s a history we have to overcome, because for so many of our young people, there’s a fear. And for so many of our families, there’s a fear. So I’ve had to worry, over the years, Chirlane’s had to worry — was Dante safe each night? There are so many families in this city who feel that each and every night — is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities — crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods — but are they safe from the very people they want to have faith in as their protectors? That’s the reality. And it conforms to something bigger that you’ve heard come out in the protests in Ferguson, and all over the country.

That’s an explicit statement that he fears what the NYPD would do to his son in a bad set of circumstances. That’s a pretty hefty accusation and one that he exacerbates moments later by contending that the police force he oversees makes its decisions based upon racism:

This is now a national moment of grief, a national moment of pain, and searching for a solution, and you’ve heard in so many places, people of all backgrounds, utter the same basic phrase. They’ve said “Black Lives Matter.” And they said it because it had to be said. It’s a phrase that should never have to be said — it should be self-evident. But our history, sadly, requires us to say that Black Lives Matter. Because, as I said the other day, we’re not just dealing with a problem in 2014, we’re not dealing with years of racism leading up to it, or decades of racism — we are dealing with centuries of racism that have brought us to this day. That is how profound the crisis is. And that is how fundamental the task at hand is, to turn from that history and to make a change that is profound and lasting.

If you doubt that section of de Blasio’s speech was directed at the NYPD, then ask yourself this: When the mayor says, “Black Lives Matter,” whom is he saying it to? Who does he believe doesn’t think that black lives matter?

If you’re a mayor and you accuse your police force of racism, can you really be surprised to see your police force behaving in a disrespectful manner? And can you legitimately expect them to continue to respect you?

Recommended

The Latest