In the wake of the grand jury’s decision on the Eric Garner case, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made it his business to speak publicly against the system, if not the specific results. The decision sparked cries of outrage in New York City and around the country, where people who saw the videotape of Garner being brought to the ground by a group of NYPD officers felt that justice had not been served. That the decision came on the heels of a similarly disputed grand jury decision in Ferguson only made matters worse.
In a move that was likely part-genuine and part-PR, de Blasio likened Eric Garner’s death with the plight of his own son of mixed race. “We’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades,” de Blasio said of his 17-year old son, Dante, “in how to take special care in any encounter with the police officers who are there to protect him.”
For many of New York’s Finest, that comment was too much to handle. Though de Blasio has been careful in his public statements to maintain support for the police, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association distributed fliers with the headline: “Don’t Let Them Insult Your Sacrifice!” The fliers were passed through the NYPD for signature requests, the aim being a waiver that would keep de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito from NYPD funerals.
“I, as a New York City police officer, request that Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito refrain from attending my funeral services in the event that I am killed in the line of duty,” says the waiver. The text goes on to contend that the two public officials did not give “police officers the support and respect they deserve.”
In a joint statement, the mayor and the council speaker characterized the waiver as “deeply disappointing.”
A Country Divided
If anything, the twin uproars from police officers and citizens shows how these verdicts have divided Americans. Much of the controversy has settled on race, though even Garner’s wife said she didn’t believe the color of his skin had anything to do with the incident or the decision. While protests have continued to grow in the wake of both the Garner and Michael Brown incidents, many believe that the two dead men cannot be excused from their own responsibilities.
That hasn’t stopped many prominent politicians – de Blasio among them – from calling for law enforcement reform. In an interview, de Blasio said U.S. police departments needed to “change the fundamental relationship between police and community” with re-training across the board. Meanwhile, President Obama insisted that Americans needed to “recognize this is an American problem and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a native American problem…when anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law.”
Whatever your feelings are on either case, it seems clear that the groundswell of anger is not going away anytime soon. While there may be issues that need to be addressed, it is unfortunate that the overwhelming majority of good police officers are being painted with the same broad brush. If politicians like Obama and de Blasio want to spearhead change, they should start by elaborating on the deep debt we owe to the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. Police aren’t perfect. But the issue is not as black and white (in either sense of the term) as many of the protestors seem to think.