On Christmas Day, my Dad, my two brothers, and I took a leisurely stroll through Central Park. During the course of our walk, my younger brother noticed a flag was at half-mast. I informed him that the stars and stripes had been lowered in the memory of Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, the two NYPD officers slain while eating lunch in their patrol car in Brooklyn. Of course, he had heard about the shooting, but did not make the connection.
Although Dad and my brothers were sympathetic to the two fallen officers, they were critical of the police at large, especially in the wake of recent police shootings. My younger brother, who is an attorney in Toronto, cited the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Timothy Loehmann, the officer responsible for Rice’s death, resigned from his previous police assignment amid negative evaluations of his performance. Unfortunately, the Cleveland PD did not engage in due diligence before hiring this officer.
A short time later, we turned onto 59th Street to make our way to Columbus Circle, and came across a very large contingent of NYPD officers and vehicles. I noticed that Dad and my siblings had quieted their criticisms. Like many public institutions in this country, the police are not held in the esteem they once were. Although I do not believe law enforcement is above criticism, at the same time I am not content to pillory the police for fashion’s sake.
We must have seen 500 police officers. I am not prepared to cast aspersions against all of them. Could there be a few bad apples among them? Probably. But even so, do they spoil the whole bunch? As Abraham Lincoln put it, “If you want to test a man’s character, give a man power.” I submit that most of the officers I saw on Christmas Day would pass that test.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the differences between the police shootings in Ferguson and Staten Island is to wonder what those 500 officers have done if they were in the position of Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo. I believe if any of those 500 officers found themselves in a situation where someone tried to forcibly take their service revolver away from them, they would have reacted exactly as Wilson did. I think the same could also be said of Officers Liu and Ramos.
Conversely, I suspect that nearly all of those 500 officers would have found a way to deal with Eric Garner that did not result in his death. Ditto for Officers Liu and Ramos. Indeed, Officer Ramos was studying to be a chaplain. Everything we have heard about Officer Ramos over the past week leads me to believe that had he been on that Staten Island street last July he would have found the words to diffuse the situation and Eric Garner would still be alive.
I later realized that the officers had gathered in preparation for the nightly anti-police demonstrations. While it’s true that many of the protesters have exercised their constitutional rights peacefully, there is a significant segment of them who said, “What do we want? Dead cops!!! When do we want them? Now!!!” Well, these protesters got what they wanted and must now live with their words.
When I mentioned these protesters, my younger brother said, “So you want to shut down the protests.” Like many lawyers, my younger brother is skilled in making straw man arguments. No one is making the case that the anti-police protests should be shut down. But both President Obama and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio encouraged the protests. When protesters proclaimed their desire for dead cops, neither Obama nor de Blasio said anything to discourage such sentiments until it was too late.
While President Obama is nearly 5,000 miles away in Hawaii, de Blasio now must reap what he has sown. Now de Blasio tells the demonstrators to exercise restraint and sings the praises of the police. But the NYPD sees right through it. They know his praise for them is a mile wide, but an inch deep. Sooner or later, the NYPD will again be accused of racism. Will de Blasio give them the benefit of the doubt? Sadly, we can fully expect de Blasio to invoke his son and speak of centuries of racism. This claim is belied by the partnership of Officers Jian and Ramos. Indeed, when I walked past that sea of blue on 59th Street, I saw officers of all races. Given that New York’s finest have been turning their backs on de Blasio, perhaps he can be forgiven for being ignorant of the racial composition of the NYPD. But then again when Al Sharpton says jump, de Blasio says how high.
As long as de Blasio resides in Gracie Mansion, he will never regain the trust of the NYPD who I am sure are longing for the return of Rudy Giuliani. Hell, they’d be happy to see Michael Bloomberg back. Yes, Nanny Bloomberg might have the annoying habit of telling New Yorkers how much salt they can consume, but he would have never rubbed salt in the NYPD’s wound. However, we ought not to underestimate de Blasio. Let us not forget that nearly three out of four New Yorkers who voted just over a year ago, voted for him. While many New Yorkers stand behind their officers, there are also many New Yorkers who look upon the police with derision and disdain.
The NYPD, and for that matter every other police force in this country, is only as good as the people who are wearing the uniform. With this in mind, let us judge the men and women sworn to protect us by the content of their character, not the color of their uniform.