De Blasio’s Flip-Flopping On the Protest Marches Is Politics As Usual

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In the three weeks since a grand jury in Staten Island failed to charge police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, thousands of New Yorkers have staged citywide protest marches focused on shining a light upon the unfair and frequently brutal treatment of minority men and women by police officers. The vast majority of protestors have participated in these marches peacefully. Relative to the number of the protestors involved and the prominence of the New York places they have occupied (the Brooklyn Bridge, the West Side Highway, Grand Central Station, the FDR Drive), very few arrests were made. The protestors rhetoric varied from the objectively peaceful (“Hands up, don’t shoot!”) to the militantly aggressive (We want dead police now!”), and, in recent days, it became clear that protestors would have to expect blowback from opposition, including in the form of a pro-cop rally in Manhattan last week. But through it all, the protestors had the tacit support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, even as Pat Lynch, the head of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, railed against the mayor for his disloyalty to New York’s men in blue.

It’s impossible to know what would have happened in this city with regards to the protests—if any systemic problems within the NYPD would have been addressed, if the civil rights of minority residents would have been taken as seriously as those of non-minorities—because of the horrific murders of two police officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, by 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley on Saturday. Although Brinsley had no connection to the protestors in New York (and, indeed, was not even from New York), his actions were immediately labeled as an extension of the primarily peaceful protests. Beyond that, PBA head Lynch and many other ultra-conservatives (Ray Kelly, Rudy Giuliani, and Bernard Kerik among them) instantly sought to blame De Blasio for these murders because they claimed that mayor had promoted divisiveness in the city and a hatred for cops. This narrative took hold so quickly that by the time De Blasio reached Woodhull Hospital, where both slain officers had been taken, the police officers lining the halls there turned their backs on the mayor as he walked by.

And so today, when De Blasio held a press conference about the murders of the officers, it makes sense that he would have in mind that fact that he has been accused of having these men’s “blood on his hands.” It makes sense that he would want to distance himself from any pro-protestor rhetoric—and that is exactly what he did. De Blasio called for an “end to ‘protests’ and ‘political debate'” and asked that “everyone recognize it’s a time to step back and just focus on these families.” The mayor said, “Politics and protest can be for another day… until that time it is our obligation to respect them.”

Which, you know, makes sense; it makes sense in a politically savvy, completely reductive kind of way. And, frankly, this city—all of it—deserves better. Let the out-of-control divisiveness continue to spew from Lynch and his ilk. De Blasio doesn’t need to entertain it as anything more than what it is: pure bile. De Blasio can do better. It does not dishonor the slain police officers, or indeed any of the NYPD, to continue to support the protestors aims to address the problem of police brutality. It does not dishonor the slain police officers to recognize that the NYPD as whole is an imperfect force in this city, and yet saying this does not mean that the mayor condones its members being murdered. It does not dishonor the slain police officers to abhor all senseless killings in this city—no matter who the victims.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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