The condemnations were swift. Press conferences were hastily organized. A #RespectThePolice hashtag quickly made its rounds through the right-wing Twittersphere. The NYPD was apparently under attack. Had we seen a repeat of late 2014, when two police officers were gunned down in Brooklyn?
No, we’d seen cops getting drenched with buckets of water. They walked away, apparently unharmed. A few of the individuals were later arrested, and hit with a slew of criminal charges.
The ensuing moral panic — shared dutifully between police unions, local tabloids and the city’s elected officials, before eventually reaching the White House — seemed to suggest that civilized society was about to implode.
However, in the widespread grief and finger-wagging over a few wet cops, one sees how police power looms over a city where an officer who choked a Black man to death five years ago continues to cash taxpayer checks.
MORE DISRESPECT: Additional video surfaces of jeering crowds dumps water on two (what appears to be female) #NYPD Officers who run away in shame. #BlueLivesMatter @NYCMayor @NYPDnews pic.twitter.com/skVKhSWM49
— NYC Scanner (@NYScanner) July 24, 2019
Police Benevolent Association (PBA) president Pat Lynch, one of the city's most unpopular public figures, once again blamed elected officials for formenting an "anti-cop" sentiment: "Our anti-cop lawmakers have gotten their wish: the NYPD is now frozen.”
Lynch is, of course, the guy who has long said that Staten Island's Eric Garner, who was choked to death by NYPD Detective Daniel Pantaleo, on camera, in 2014, actually killed himself. The PBA is, of course, the police union that in 1992 organized 10,000 off-duty cops to protest the creation of a police misconduct oversight agency, resulting in thousands of cops storming over police barriers, jumping on cars, assaulting reporters and some referring to then mayor David Dinkins by the n-word.
Lynch and the PBA aren't alone. The city's other large police union, the Sergeants Benevolent Association (SBA), has been similarly outraged, recently tweeting about a "PANTALEO AFFECT" (sic), tying the water bucket events to what they see as the unfair persecution of their fellow cop. The SBA is the union that represents 7,000 NYPD Sergeants (the people who are responsible for supervising patrol cops) and recently told its members to "stand shoulder to shoulder" with ICE agents.
If a "PANTALEO AFFECT" sounds familiar that's because it seems to be a play off of the debunked "Ferguson Effect," which argued that Black Lives Matter protests were hurting police morale and deterring them from policing—threatening public safety. The "effect" was a theory manufactured by conservatives angry about protests that said cops shouldn't kill Black people.
And while the police unions’ antics are predictable at this point, their characterization of de Blasio and company as "anti-cop" should be recognized for what it is: a rhetorical ploy aimed to move the political goalposts to the right by placing the label on a mayor who's been anything but.
It was the Mayor and City Council who added nearly 1,300 cops to the NYPD in 2016. Under the de Blasio administration we have seen the expansion of the NYPD’s opaque and arbitrary gang database, as well as the Orwellian rollout of police drones and so-called "predictive policing.” Our “anti-cop” mayor has allowed the NYPD’s legal department to reinterpret a decades-old statute, civil rights law 50a, to shield police officers’ misconduct from the public.
And while you'd be hard-pressed to find a city politician who doesn't praise the cops, it might even be more difficult to find one who consistently holds them accountable. Compare the immediate flow of condemnation for the water bucket videos (and praise for the "restraint" of police) with the virtual radio silence from elected officials over outrageous videos taken just this month of cops repeatedly punching and arresting Black men who talk back or commit traffic infractions.
Just yesterday, a Black woman, a victim of domestic violence, was reportedly punched by police officers after a panic attack at a homeless shelter.
So when elected officials insist that people in communities of color who've been punched, unconstitutionally stopped, surveilled, harassed and falsely arrested for decades, simply "respect" the police, they show how deeply out of touch they are with the significant segments of this city who frankly have plenty of reasons to hate the police.
How many New Yorkers will roll their eyes when NYPD Chief Jeffrey Madrey grandstands about how much respect those soaked cops deserve when he lied and pulled rank last year to avoid punishment for allegedly assaulting a woman? Did top police officials respect the uniform when they participated in the largest police corruption scandal in decades, which included accepting bribes from businessmen that oh-by-the-way, happened to be political donors to Mayor de Blasio?
Show me a New Yorker of color who doesn't believe that police can quite literally get away with murder in this city. Political leaders who are quick to chastise young men who throw water mostly tip toe or remain silent around police transgressions. Many of us who live in hyper-policed communities can see that.
In fact, it's precisely the pro-police bent and selective outrage of the Mayor and local lawmakers that won't let them see one of the fundamental problems of policing in this city: they demand respect for a police force that not only doesn't respect the public, by and large, but doesn't even respect them.
Josmar Trujillo is a writer, trainer and organizer based in Spanish Harlem.