The Thin-Skinned Blue Line

I do not live in New York City and do not have intimate knowledge of its city government or public services, but I am an American citizen and I do know members of the NYPD are behaving in ways inconsistent with a democratic society. They were also apparently never taught manners by their mothers.

A phalanx of officers applied fatal force to a man accused of the trivial crime of selling individual cigarettes. He stupidly protested and put up some resistance. That may have been wrong, but shouldn’t have amounted to a death sentence. “I can’t breathe,” uttered by an unarmed man, should be taken seriously when four police officers have him in a chokehold and have their knees in his back compressing his chest.

The failure to indict or punish the officers led to protests in which racism was alleged. They, too, often turned excessive. Those events apparently inspired a mentally unstable man to kill two police officers in cold blood. So far, pretty ugly.

But at memorial services for the two officers a large number of their fellow officers turned their backs on the mayor when he spoke in eulogy. This was about as out of line as the tasteless and cruel anti-gay protests of nutcase Preacher Fred Phelps at the funerals of fallen soldiers. The officers in this case were chided by Police Commissioner William Bratton after the first funeral, but they went right ahead and repeated the charade, thus showing disrespect not just for the mayor and the commissioner but for the bereaved family.

There is also evidence that the police are staging their own protest by refusing to perform their duties. Routine tickets and summons have dropped by 90 percent since the troubles began. Arrests for more serous crimes are down 56 percent. Bratton claims these derelictions will be dealt with harshly. One would think so.

Members of the NYPD may not care for Mayor Bill de Blasio. They may not like the fact that he said cops sometimes cross the line or that he and his black wife have warned their son that black young men are often treated differently by the police than their white counterparts. They may have preferred Bloomberg or Giuliani, but the voters chose the incumbent. The cops may also think the criticism of the officers in the Garner case unjust and may not share the political views of the protesters. They are entitled to think what they wish.

But they aren’t entitled to disrupt and disrespect a funeral for fallen fellows in order to make a political statement. It is crass, vulgar and unforgivable. Furthermore, they have a job in a hierarchical profession where there is a chain of command. After the first funeral they were told to knock it off, but they went ahead and did it again. Sorry gentlemen, but the chain of command runs from the top down, not from the bottom up.

They also do not have the right to decide when and how and which laws to enforce. They aren’t freelancers, private contractors or even a band of brothers. They’re members of a government department and report to and take orders from a boss. There are standards of conduct they are expected to live up to, a code of behavior.

If they don’t like the boss or the rules, they are free to seek employment elsewhere, but they aren’t free to have their own way. They can’t decide they will go on strike or refuse to enforce the law until they like their city’s elected chief executive. If they don’t like that, they don’t like democracy.

When cops decide they are above the law and don’t need to obey the rules of the organization they work for, they aren’t preserving and protecting our way of life but undermining and subverting it. I don’t envy Commissioner Bratton his job. He’s clearly got his work cut out for him. A rogue cop is bad enough, a rogue department is deeply worrying.

Mass insubordination is unacceptable. Doing your job only when you agree with management isn’t workable. And putting your personal wishes, your hurt feelings, or your political ideology ahead of duty and public safety means you’re in the wrong line of work and possibly the wrong country.


The Thin-Skinned Blue Line — 1 Comment

  1. Well-put. I have boundless respect for what police officers are asked to do and the risks they assume (especially the needless risk of being gunned down by lunatics). But the collective childishness of many NYPD members should not be tolerated. Question is, what can Bratton do about it?