The antidote to police lawlessness isn’t more training, or fancy equipment, but putting the community in charge of the cops.
“De Blasio and the City Council made a big show of cutting one billion dollars from the police budget, but the sleight of hand will not lead to any reduction of the police force.”
On June 9th, 2020, over 100 representatives of twenty law enforcement unions from the state of New York held a press conference at the RFK Bridge on Randalls Island to condemn new police reform bills. Patrick Lynch, president of the New York City Police Benevolent Association (PBA) claimed that law enforcement is under attack. Crime is on the rise because criminals have gotten the message that there will be a “soft touch” when handling people who break the law. According to Lynch the soft touch message is coming from City Hall and the State House who are being guided by cop hating protesters championing the new legislation that portray police as criminals.
The police were trashing a law that included ending New York State law 50A, which kept the disciplinary records of police hidden from the public. The PBA president accused legislators of rushing through legislation “in the dark of night” and claimed that district attorneys “are asking us to pull back.”
“They are asking us to abandon our community,” Lynch claimed. “They are asking us to walk away from the neighborhoods that we brought back” and the police “don’t have a choice. If you put your hand on the criminal you’re going to jail.” New York’s leaders were “appeasing the criminals, the rioters,” and “our critics.” Criminals feel emboldened to commit crimes “because there are no consequences.”
The notion of the “soft touch,” was one Lynch echoed several times. “The message of the soft touch is that you look great [in uniform], but don’t get yourself dirty.” He claims that the NYPD Is the “most restrained” police department in the country and the results have been devastating.
“New York’s leaders were ‘appeasing the criminals, the rioters,’ and ‘our critics.’”
But it was not just police unions blaming the new police reform measures for the uptick in crime; the police agencies who employ the cops also joined the chorus. NYPD’s Chief of Department, Terrence Monahan, told the press on Jul 6, “It makes no sense,” referring to the City Council bill banning chokeholds. Monahan argued that the chokehold is necessary for cops to restrain violent criminals. The police also gained an important ally in their effort to convince New Yorkers that the new police reform measures were responsible for the uptick in violent crime in the city. Mayor Bill de Blasio joined the top brass of the NYPD in blaming the new bail reform legislation for the recent spike in crime. He claimed that it is one of many factors leading to the recent spike. “There’s a direct correlation to a change in the law and we need to address it.”
The NYPD claimed that in the first few months of 2020, 482 people who had been released after being charged with a felony crime were arrested for 846 new crimes. However, the Bronx Defenders, New York County Defender Services, Brooklyn Defender Services and the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, declared that the police department has a long history of fighting bail reform by pushing “scare tactics,”
“NYPD Chief Monahan argued that the chokehold is necessary for cops to restrain violent criminals.”
The NYPD’s claim of a crime wave is a means to derail the movement challenging the police’s ability to brutalize citizens with impunity. Many in the anti-police brutality movement have been beaten and arrested for peacefully demonstrating. The NYPD and the mayor till blatant lies, claiming the police have shown restraint when news footage shows just the opposite. But this only hammers home the point that liberal Democrats like de Blasio will never effectively address excessive police violence against black and brown people.
For decades the police and their allies have deployed the false narrative that any attempt to curb their power would only embolden criminals while “tying the hands” of the cops. The most successful police use of the false narrative was in 1966 when the liberal Republican mayor of New York, John Lindsay created a civilian complaint review board. The Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant uprisings that erupted in the summer of 1964 after an off-duty police officer shot and killed a fifteen-year-old African American male convinced many that steps had to be taken to help end police brutality. Civil rights leaders and activists demanded a Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), and Lindsay answered their call when we won office in 1965.
“The most successful police use of the false narrative was in 1966.”
When Lindsay created a board consisting of four civilians and three police officers, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association launched an elaborate and racist campaign to destroy it. Even though the powers of the review board were limited to taking complaints, investigating misconduct by the police, holding hearings, and making recommendations about the type of discipline for cops found guilty of abusing their authority, the final decision would be made by the police commissioner. However, even this moderate reform was too much for the PBA. The police effort to eliminate the CCRB included an advertisement campaign displaying a young white woman emerging from a subway station at night. The ad warned that the police might hesitate to protect her because of the CCRB. The PBA also managed to place a referendum on the ballot in 1966, asking New Yorkers to reject the Lindsay civilian complaint review board. The false narrative was successful: New Yorkers voted overwhelmingly in favor of the PBA’s referendum to dismantle the new civilian complaint review board.
The 1966 election was a major turning point in policing and politics. Police understood that they could halt attempts of curbing their power by using the false narrative and political figures, Democrats and Republicans would simply bend the knee.
“The police effort to eliminate the CCRB included an advertisement campaign displaying a young white woman emerging from a subway station at night.”
Bill de Blasio, who promised to reform the NYPD if elected mayor, bent the knee by walking away from that pledge after the PBA’s crusade to portray the mayor as anti-police and capitulating to criminals. Although he ended the previous mayor’s appeal against a federal court order that the city halt racial profiling when using stop and frisk policy, the mayor has since increased the police budget from $4,678 billion in 2013 to close to $6 billion in 2019. He has hired 1300 more police officers, and he is an ardent supporter of broken windows policy, falsely claiming that it has helped reduce crime in the city.
De Blasio and the City Council made a big show of cutting one billion dollars from the police budget, but the sleight of hand will not lead to any reduction of the police force. As the New York Daily News reported, the cut was nothing more than an “accounting trick” that moved “school safety officers, who are currently part pf the NYPD, to the Department of Education.”
Bill de Blasio has proven that relying on mainstream Democrats to end police brutality, even those who dress up as people on the left, is a fool’s errand. In order to end the police’s ability to physically assault and abuse black and brown people, there has to be a radical reduction in police power. Citizens must have the power to determine how police operate in their communities. Eradicate broken windows policy. End qualified immunity and make officers carry liability insurance. Most importantly, an elected citizens’ board should not only be empowered to investigate and hold hearings but to decide on the punishment of officers found guilty of abusing citizens. Communities should also be able to participate in the hiring of police and evaluate their performance. Community empowerment is the real answer to ending police domination over black and brown people.
Clarence Taylor is Professor Emeritus of History at Baruch College, CUNY. His book is Fight the Power: African Americans and the Long History of Police Brutality in New York City.
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