Imagine the scenario: a woman is making a threatening and very loud disturbance in a Bronx apartment building. The police are called. They find a 66-year-old “EDP” — an emotionally disturbed person — a black woman threatening neighbors and gripping a pair of scissors.
Led by a highly experienced sergeant who happens to be white, the police talk her into dropping the scissors and stepping out of her bedroom so emergency medical services can safely engage with her. The police don’t pull their guns, pepper spray her or use their Tasers. They just talk. But when the sergeant tries to grab her, she runs to her bed, picks up a baseball bat and winds up for a swing at the sergeant’s head.
Faced with the deadly weapon at close range, the sergeant pulls his pistol and fires twice in defense.
Inevitably, that brought out charges from the reflexively anti-cop left. Bill de Blasio, Black Lives Matter, and Al Sharpton weighed in. But they didn’t have much to go on. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman looked at the evidence and concluded that the sergeant adhered to NYPD guidelines, that his action fell well within the bounds of case law established by the U.S. Supreme Court, and declined to get involved.
Enter Darcel Clark, the troubled Bronx District Attorney, a 55-year-old long-time Bronx pol, a former judge who recently assumed the prosecutor’s job — with the loud support of Mayor Bill de Blasio — and who is already running for her 2018 re-election. Despite the fact that it would be virtually impossible to get a guilty jury verdict, if there were one, upheld on appeal, the prosecutor empanelled a grand jury, which indicted the sergeant for second degree murder — the first time a NYPD officer has been charged with murder since 1999. You have to think that politics, not justice, was what that was all about.
As for the sergeant — Hugh Barry — in his ninth year on the fabled New York Police Department, an honorable man without a blemish on his record and the recipient of five Excellent Police Duty medals, things are not so good. On administrative leave, his life is now in turmoil. If convicted, he could go to prison for the rest of his life. In any event, his case could be in the courts for years and he will likely be in dire financial straits by the time it’s over. His family life, as in so many of these cases, will be a far cry from where it was a year ago — before he responded to the call of duty. His emotional health will be taxed to the limit and under the best of circumstances his career — a career he loves — will never be the same.
And District Attorney Darcel Clark’s record? Not so hot. Her 2015 election was allegedly orchestrated by Democrats in order to avoid a primary after her predecessor resigned to become a judge. Her short term as District Attorney is rife with accusations — and lawsuits — of misconduct, cronyism, and complete politicization of her office.
But the larger, and longer-term tragedy is for the poor residents of the Bronx who rely on the police to maintain some semblance of peace and order in their lives. As the NYPD goes about its business in the Bronx, as they answer calls every hour of the day and night, there is little doubt that the “Ferguson effect” will play a role in how quickly they respond and what risks they are willing to take. A Pew Research Center national survey released in January concludes that more than half of all police officers say that recent high-profile fatal encounters between black citizens and police officers have made their jobs riskier, aggravated tensions between police and blacks, and left many officers reluctant to fully carry out their duties. Why, an officer would certainly ask, should I risk my career, my livelihood, my very freedom when, if I look the other way, or take a little longer to get to the crime scene, or make a traffic stop instead, the situation will work itself out one way or another?
Alfred Regnery is Chairman of the Law Enforcement Action Network. He served in the Department of Justice during the Reagan Administration.