Scare Tactics

The big news stories of the day come and go. What was terribly important is soon enough something no one remembers. Last year, or maybe it was the year before, it was the government shutdown – the Republicans in Congress saying there’d be no funds for anything, even basic services, unless Obama agreed to abandon the Affordable Care Act of 2010, even if it was the law of the land. That went nowhere. The Republicans shut things down, by not authorizing any further government spending, period. They have that power, but Obama wouldn’t budge – the law is the law, and the Supreme Court, still full of conservatives who hate laws that favor useless people over useful corporations, had long ago ruled that, as laws go, the Affordable Care Act seemed quite constitutional – so the Republicans looked like spoiled brats, willing to ruin everything unless they got their way. They had obviously ruined something else, their chances of ever returning to power – they were thugs, and not even very good at being thugs. But then, within a day or two of the government shutdown ending, the rollout of Obamacare was a disaster – the system crashed again and again and it took months to get it working anything like it should. Everyone immediately forgot the shutdown, because this proved Obamacare would never work and it was an evil and boneheaded idea in the first place. The system crashes proved nothing of the sort but this was something to talk about. The shutdown was ancient history, if it even happened.

It was the same with Ebola – we were all going to die, because Obama was incompetent – and then it turned out that the CDC and the rest of the government could handle Ebola cases here quite effectively, and the science was right – it’s hard to contract the disease. Those who posed as heroes, like Chris Christie in New Jersey, who would quarantine everyone in sight if he could, and did quarantine that feisty nurse who didn’t even have the disease, because the science could be wrong, ended up looking like fools, or worse. They looked like cynical opportunists, and they weren’t very good at that either – and then that big news story of the day just went away. No one was dying, at least over here, and there were other things to talk about. No one talks about Africa, at least for very long. Ebola was over.

That happens to big news stories, and there’s also no way to bring a dead news story back to life either, when the public has moved on, usually because all the issues have been resolved. That’s why the Republicans can’t seem to jump-start the Benghazi story no matter how hard they try. What happened is clear and has been well-documented. Our ambassador and three others died there, but no one did anything particularly wrong. Things went wrong, as they will, and everyone did their best, and it wasn’t good enough, this time. The next time the CIA won’t be at cross-purposes with the state department and the local government, and as far as the IRS scandal goes, there also wasn’t much there in the first place either, and what was there was all low-level stuff, which can be fixed. Guidelines are being tightened. Organizations that should be tax-exempt will get their exemption, and those that shouldn’t be won’t – and no one is picking on Tea Party organizations. They never were. Low-level IRS folks were simply working with inadequate guidance. That’s being given them and that story is dead. Even Fox News doesn’t mention it any longer.

The public is used to this sort of thing – news stories last a few news cycles and then seem to disappear – but there are exceptions, where the issues cannot be resolved. There’s no quick fix, if there’s a fix at all, and the issue now is our police. In Ferguson, way out in Missouri, a white cop, Darren Wilson, shot an unarmed young black man dead, which might, or might not, have been an overreaction. The kid, Michael Brown, was stopped for jaywalking, but earlier he had shoplifted a box of small cigars, but he had his hands up and was surrendering, or he was charging the officer and trying to grab his gun. Accounts vary, but did he deserve to die? That might have been decided in a trial of some sort, but that never got to trial. It went to a local grand jury, finally and reluctantly convened by a prosecutor whose father had been a policeman killed in the line of duty by a young black man with a gun, and he convinced the grand jury not to indict in this case, even if he said he was neutral in the matter.

The officer walked. Riots followed, and demonstrations spread coast to coast, even if the grand jury decision should have resolved everything. It didn’t, and now there’s this – Darren Wilson Grand Juror Suing Prosecutor for Botching the Case and Putting Mike Brown On Trial – so that story isn’t going away. The police just can’t shoot anyone they want, and with a bit of help from their friend, the local district attorney, they will not be challenged about that, which is odd – but the same thing happened about a month later in Staten Island. An unarmed black man was choked to death, on camera, by a white cop, where the underlying crime was selling untaxed single cigarettes on the street, or the crime was being a pain in the ass, because the guy clearly wasn’t resisting arrest in any big-time way. Again, a local grand jury refused to indict the cop, in spite of what they saw with their own eyes. One must cut cops some slack. They have a hard job or something.

That, and the twelve-year-old black kid in Cleveland, playing with a toy gun, being immediately shot dead by a white cop as he pulled up to see what was going on, pushed things over the top. The nationwide demonstrations protesting this sort of thing grew and grew and grew – Black Lives Matter and so on – and the inevitable happened – an unbalanced black man from Baltimore drove up to Brooklyn and assassinated two NYPD cops as they sat in their patrol car, chatting, and then he shot himself. That was going to happen sooner or later, but it made things even worse. The mayor of New York wanted to calm things down, but he’s a white man married to a black woman, with a teenage son who sports a seventies Afro and looks like someone the police would stop and frisk five or six times a day, just to be sure, as they say. And the mayor ran on easing up on all the stop-and-frisk stuff. He sees both sides, and he has said so, and for that the NYPD cops will never forgive him. The head of their union says this mayor has blood on his hands – by saying he sees both sides he encouraged people to hate the cops, so he might as well have been the one in Brooklyn pulling the trigger. The mayor murdered those two cops. There’s no other way to see it.

None of this is going away, and now it has come to this:

This time, Mayor Bill de Blasio came out swinging.

He declared the New York City police “the world’s greatest,” repeating the phrase twice for emphasis.

He blasted the incendiary language of law-enforcement unions, saying it was “totally inaccurate, totally unfair” to suggest that City Hall was responsible for the murder of two officers last month.

And he criticized those who turned their backs on him at the slain officers’ funerals, calling the behavior “disrespectful to the people of this city.”

He’s had enough of this crap:

Gone was the uncertain mayor who lashed out in frustration at reporters. Instead, Mr. de Blasio stayed calm, repeatedly declared his appreciation for the Police Department and was unafraid to hit back at his critics. Asked about the funeral protests, he replied, sternly, “I can’t understand why anyone would do such a thing in a context like that.”

There were flashes of swagger. When Mr. de Blasio said he had been warned that the low crime rates of 2013 could not be matched – “and in fact it’s been beat handily” – his words carried an air of defiance.

Two weeks ago, Mr. de Blasio had said “it was very difficult” for him and his wife to meet with the relatives of the slain officers. On Monday, when asked how he felt about the police protests, he demurred. “I’m not concerned about my feelings,” he said. “My feelings don’t matter here.”

That’s fine, but others’ feelings are hurt, and they’re going to let everyone know about that:

For two straight weeks, New York City police officers have sharply cut back on making arrests and issuing summonses throughout the five boroughs, magnifying the growing divide between the city’s police force and its mayor, Bill de Blasio.

Officers made half as many arrests in the seven days through Sunday as in the same week a year ago. In the entire city, 347 criminal summonses were written, down from 4,077 a year ago, according to police statistics. Parking and traffic tickets also dropped by more than 90 percent.

Most precincts’ weekly tallies for criminal infractions were close to zero: In Coney Island, the precinct covering that neighborhood did not record a single parking ticket, traffic summons or ticket for a low-level crime like public urination or drinking, the statistics showed.

If they don’t get the respect they say they deserve, a direct and humble apology from the mayor, for saying there are two sides to the issue here, the city won’t be policed. Then the mayor will be sorry – real sorry. They can ruin New York, and they will – it’s up to him.

This worries the New York Post, fully behind the police union, and they report this:

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton responded with a direct threat to the city’s cops, saying he was having police brass investigate the plummet in enforcement. During a news conference at NYPD headquarters, Bratton vowed to crack down “very forcefully” if the probe uncovered any evidence of a “job action.”

“I will look very specifically, precinct by precinct, tour of duty by tour of duty, sector car by sector car, officer by officer,” Bratton announced. “And we will deal with it very appropriately if we have to.”

Bratton’s warning came as he and Mayor de Blasio touted a 4.6 percent drop in overall major crime during 2014, along with a record-low number of 332 homicides, results Bratton called “probably the best in the nation.”

“Half the people who live in this city now were not here in 1990, and have no understanding of how bad it was,” the top cop said, referring to the year the Big Apple suffered an all-time high of 2,245 killings.

That doesn’t matter, because Bratton has gone over to the dark side:

Bratton also blasted the “selfishness” of the thousands of cops who ignored his urging them not to turn their backs on de Blasio.

“I share the mayor’s concern about the idea of what is effectively a labor action being taken in the middle of a funeral, where we are honoring the death of two police officers,'” Bratton said. “I just don’t understand it. I’m sorry. I just do not understand that.”

Doesn’t he understand their feelings are hurt? It seems he doesn’t:

Michael Palladino, the head of the detectives union, responded with frustration.

“You can’t win,” he said. “When cops make arrests and give summonses, they are accused of being robotic with no feelings. When cops exercise discretion and express feelings, they’re accused of being political and disrespectful.”

The Post seems to think that will tug at the readers’ heartstrings, but it sounds a lot like whining. Do your job, guys. It’s what you’re paid to do.

Calvin Wolf addresses this:

Understandably, many police officers feel that the politicians are selling them out to capitalize on a wave of anti-authoritarianism among the general public. The public is angry at cops, so policymakers are criticizing cops to soak up votes. Cops feel that the dangers they face are poorly understood and often unappreciated by both civilians and politicians.

That may be a misunderstanding. The public is angry at cops, for good reason in more than a few cases, but no one may be trolling for votes here. They’re just trying to tell the public they’ll look into things, as they should, but be that as it may, Wolf is not happy with where this is heading:

Police officers, I understand. But you must not turn your backs. Though it is tempting to turn your back on a mayor who has insinuated that you are brutal racists, and may be trying to score cheap political points, you must use the power of your voice instead. Turning one’s back on the mayor may be as mistaken as turning one’s back on the entire citizenry. Critics will use this gesture against you.

Don’t shut down the government because you didn’t have enough votes to keep Obamacare from passing back in 2010 – no, wait – don’t shut down the city until you get an apology.

But there is a game being played here, and Ta-Nehisi Coates offers this:

If the public appetite for police reform can be soured by the mad acts of a man living on the edge of society, then the appetite was probably never really there to begin with. And the police, or at least their representatives, know this. In this piece, by Wesley Lowery, there are several amazing moments where police complain about things Barack Obama and Eric Holder have not actually said. There simply is no level of critique they would find tolerable. Why take criticism when you don’t actually have to? Better to remind the public that you are the only thing standing between them and the barbarians at the gate…

Denis Hamill, however, applies a bit of logic to all this:

If you agree with Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch that the blood of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu is on Mayor de Blasio’s hands, then is the blood of Zbigniew Truszkowski, 37, stabbed to death protecting his teenage stepdaughter from a drunken stalker on DuPont St. in Brooklyn on Monday night, on the hands of Lynch? By not condemning an apparent police work slowdown, Lynch has essentially sanctioned a mass breach of the NYPD oath to protect and serve the public.

I think it’s completely unfair, of course, to smear Lynch with Truszkowski’s blood. But if you apply Lynch’s twisted logic of de Blasio’s culpability in the two police assassinations, you can make the case that in the police work slowdown, suggested by a reduced number of summonses and arrests, Lynch with his silence gave the killer the means and opportunity to commit the only murder in Greenpoint in 2014.

Look at it the other way:

If anyone should have started off that powwow between police union chiefs and de Blasio with an apology, it should have been Lynch, who used the most inflammatory and reckless rhetoric of this big, hot, blue mess.

I don’t think de Blasio has anything to apologize for. Two-thirds of New Yorkers agree with the mayor that there should have been an indictment in the police chokehold death of Eric Garner. So no apology needed there. After the Garner decision, de Blasio made a statement about warning his biracial son on the dangers of young black males dealing with police and telling him to cooperate with officers. I keep hearing apologists for Officer Daniel Pantaleo say that if Garner hadn’t resisted arrest, he wouldn’t have died. So maybe if anything, de Blasio should reiterate and amplify his advice to all young black males. And everyone else. But no apology necessary.

And Charles Ellison adds this:

Active work stoppages add a whole new ugly dimension to the dispute and could create a slippery slope towards bad police practices in New York City and beyond. That ventures into a future no one would want and no one benefits from: a scenario where distressed and underserved communities are left to fend for themselves once police departments consider “quality of life” crimes as too much hassle and not worth the headache. Is that where we’re headed? A world where police, who already know the dangers and risks of their profession, suddenly want to skip out or provide lower levels of service because they feel under-appreciated and targeted? Not sure if it’s a good idea to get comfortable with that.

Anyone who grew up in a working class urban neighborhood can tell you how minor offenses and “broken windows” can quickly add up into crime-ridden nightmares for the residents. Policy makers should figure out an approach that’s less punitive on folks who can’t afford it. But allowing the dramatic slashing of local police presence out of police fear and arrogance is an insane proposition.

Heck, even the Republicans learned that lesson:

Mitch McConnell has an unusual admonition for the new Republican majority as it takes over the Senate this week: Don’t be “scary.”

The incoming Senate majority leader has set a political goal for the next two years of overseeing a functioning, reasonable majority on Capitol Hill that scores some measured conservative wins, particularly against environmental regulations, but probably not big victories such as a full repeal of the health-care law. McConnell’s priority is to set the stage for a potential GOP presidential victory in 2016.

“I don’t want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary outcome. I want the American people to be comfortable with the fact that the Republican House and Senate is a responsible, right-of-center, governing majority,” the Kentucky Republican said in a broad interview just before Christmas in his Capitol office.

Don’t be scary? That’s how the police keep the peace, by being scarier than anyone out there on the street – or so many of them believe. They’re just extending that concept to this dispute with the mayor. Don’t argue with us. Someone might die.

There is another police model of course, the London Bobby thing, where the police are helpful and defuse tense situations and send everyone on their way – and they don’t carry guns, and London is still a safe place. But then, over there, pretty much no one has the right to carry a big gun everywhere and anywhere – so that may not work here. Still, what do we expect the police to do? Should they be helpful, or so intimidating that no one dares sneeze or they might die? We haven’t figured that out yet.

We may never figure that out, and thus some big news stories, like this one, will go on and on and on. It has to.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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