Like many New Yorkers, black, white and Latino, I was outraged by the fact that the cop who choked Eric Garner to death will not face a criminal trial on charges that he did something wrong which led to an innocent man’s death. Our justice system shouldn’t work that way. And like most New Yorkers, I was shocked at the execution of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu
And as a New Yorker who worked two blocks from Occupy Wall Street, which saw thousands of needless, often violent arrests by the NYPD, and as someone who began to believe that exercising free speech in New York always required being penned in by the police, I smiled when I saw the NYPD use restraint as thousands of people marched every night in early December to protest police misconduct aimed at black New Yorkers. I even smiled when I got inconvenienced by traffic jams caused by those demonstrators.
Several times in the last two years I have had ordinary New Yorkers come to me to complain about unnecessary violence by the police, and I don’t specialize in police misconduct work. In one case, a black woman friend of mine, living on East 9th Street, arrived home in a cab with her husband and two children, ages 10 and 12, and found a large crowd filling the sidewalk spilling out of a neighboring bar. She took out her IPhone to take a picture of cops just standing around as a woman lay in a puddle of vomit in the street in front of her door. A cop said “no pictures.” When my friend asked why, she was grabbed by the arm, spun around and slammed to the ground. When her husband came over the cop told him that if he interfered he would be arrested too and the kids would go to foster care. My friend was charged with resisting arrest, which meant she got to spend the night and most of the next day in the Tombs, locked up with a group of women which included someone who had stabbed her boyfriend. As soon as she walked in the courtroom the judge told the DA to drop the charges, and he did. And then there was the cop, on Bleecker Street, who slugged then 85 year old George Capsis, who he had pinned against a van, and broke George’s eye socket.
Something is wrong. The NYPD has serious problems, and one of them is that many black New Yorkers feel less safe when police are around.
The answer, of course, is not murder, and 99.999% of those looking for solutions don’t sanction violence against the police. Those, like Rudy Giuliani and former Commissioner Bernie Kerik, who accuse the demonstrators of fomenting the hatred which led to last month’s cold-blooded execution are way off the mark, and are speaking only because for a brief moment the press is giving them a platform. They helped create this problem.
Black lives matter, as protesters have said over and oer, and Blue lives matter, as the deaths of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu reminded us.. All lives matter, and divisive rhetoric, and finger pointing won’t make things better. I have been a union lawyer for 36 years, but its easy for me to say that Pat Lynch, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president, disgraced his uniform in his incendiary charge that Mayor Bill de Blasio has “blood on [his] hands.” And the cause of civil rights is set back by those who equate all cops with the KKK, and by demonstrators who exploited a chaotic scene on the Brooklyn Bridge and hurled a garbage can from the walkway down onto a traffic lane and start slugging police officers.
The Eric Garner case raises issues that we as a city must address. It’s not about all cops being racists or being bad actors. It’s about insufficient training, and a lack of consequences for bad acts. Systemic law enforcement changes are needed. And there are still cultural and economic issues which divide our City, not just the police and blacks –all of us. They must be addressed.
We have a unique opportunity. We have a white Mayor, with a black wife, and a black teenage son and daughter. We have a Puerto Rican City Council Speaker, and a black woman as Public Advocate. They all understand the problem, and they have moved to be leaders on both sides of the issue. They all understand that race, ethnicity, class, gender, or sexual orientation can all too easily become a tragic flashpoint in tense confrontations between police and the public. And they know that we need a police force which feels respected in order to keep our city safe.
As we enter 2015, we need to mourn ALL of those who have lost their lives in this conflict, and those who protest need to see most New Yorkers as their allies. We need to take concrete steps in 2015 to close that divide that Bill de Blasio spoke about when he ran for Mayor.