Turning Our Backs


USA Today.

Josh Marshall on police unions and their rhetoric about the mayor: 

 The idea that police demand reflexive support from the city’s Mayor against large segments of or even the majority of the people they’re sworn to serve and protect simply makes no sense. The people of New York and the NYPD are two groups which by definition must coexist. They can do so well or poorly. But they cannot be rid of each other – even though segments of both groups seem to wish they could.

The conflicts over policing are ones that need to be worked out at the grass roots level in the hard but critical work of police-community relations and at the grander level of city politics. But what has been disturbing to me for weeks, well before this tragedy this weekend, is the way that at least the leadership of the police unions has basically gone to war against the Mayor over breaking even in small ways from lockstep backing of the police department in all cases and at all times. When we hear members of the NYPD union leadership talking about being forced to become a “wartime” police department, who exactly are they going to war with? WTF does that mean? And who is the enemy?

There are a number of easy answers here, glib statements that are no less true for being pithy: The police department is a hammer and everybody else is a nail. Everybody else is the enemy, everybody who’s not a cop. This is a foxhole and atheists (non-cops) aren’t welcome. Not with us, against us, etc, etc.

All I can think of is how long we have been turning our backs on each other.

We know, right? We know that we can’t afford to be generous or openhearted or kind, not anymore. We’ve been hearing it for years, the justifications: We can’t feed people, they’ll just want more food. We can’t teach people to read. We can’t cure diseases. We can’t patch up all the potholes or turn on all the lights or shore up all the dams or rebuild all the schools. We can’t just close the prisons. We can’t just stop the wars.

We can’t do anything for anybody else. We don’t have room for them, in our wallets or our discourse or our debate or our hearts. The world is dangerous, the world is cruel, it’s not our problem, we can’t, we can’t, we can’t.

It’s all we hear. It’s all we are, anymore. We have gotten so very, very mean.

It’s tempting to say this all started when I noticed it starting, after 9/11, when we pointed fingers and used the word “treason” as a comma and started a bunch of wars because fuck you, pal, what do you think you’re looking at? Those of you with longer political memories than mine will say Nixon, Reagan, Hoover, Ford. Andrew Jackson would probably like a word on the subject. The first slaves landed at Jamestown in 1619 but I don’t think I’m wrong in thinking that the past 12 years have made us very much smaller than we used to be and we keep pretending it has to be that way.

We keep pretending we have to sacrifice somebody so that somebody else can get ahead. Teachers, state-employed workers, kids on food stamps, anybody making less than Trump money, they can all go blow. Everybody who “chooses” to live in a high-crime neighborhood, everybody who “chooses” to work for companies owned by horrendous bigots, we cut them off as the price of doing business.

We won’t give them raises, support their strikes, join their protests, fund their pensions. We won’t take care of them. We turn our backs: They’re the enemy. We won’t look at them. We don’t have to listen to them. We aren’t the same.

I don’t see a way back from this for DeBlasio, not the way he’s being Dixie Chick-ed right now.  I don’t see a way he can be obedient enough to satisfy the Fox News howler monkeys and their credulous audience that is EVERYONE, and that’s horrifying, and wrong. So is a society that gives us the option to turn our  backs. To look away. To say we aren’t in this together.


8 thoughts on “Turning Our Backs

  1. i keep thinking of M. Emmit Walsh’s line in Blade Runner: “You know the score, pal. You’re not cop, you’re little people!”

  2. Between 2002-2013, over 5 million people in NYC were stopped during stop-and-frisk searches. That’s about 60% of the population, if each stop were of a unique individual. But, of course, they weren’t unique stops (had they been, a significantly large number of whites would have been subject to the cops’ arbitrary behavior and it would have stopped years ago).

    So, probably 10-15% of the city’s citizens get stopped repeatedly and are subjected to a search that in itself makes a presumption of guilt. I can imagine why no small number of New Yorkers would be fed up with that. Then, of course, one has to factor in all the lopsided statistics on police brutality and murder by race, and there’s a strong prima facie case for police bias.

    DeBlasio can knuckle under and become a pawn of the police, in which case, he’s going to lose the next election, or he can accept that they’re waging war on him in order to continue that bias and tell the public that he–and the public–can acknowledge good cops without defending bad cops, and that he doesn’t have to defend bad cops as a condition of praising the good ones. And then keep hammering the amount of money bad cops have cost the taxpayers over the years, in wasted resources, court costs and settlements. He’s going to have to make the police union defend bad cops to the public, or he’s done for, politically.

  3. From Harlan Ellison (in the 60s) :

    I know damned well there are (good) cops like you. I’ve met a few; and they always wind up like Serpico,brokenhearted or bust-headed. Because police these days aren’t like police when I was a kid in
    Painesville, Ohio in the Forties.

    Friend of mine, a lieutenant of homicide, got a
    trifle bombed one night, sitting around rapping with
    me, and he let slip one of the most scary things
    I’ve ever heard. He said:

    “Harlan, it used to be,when a cop said ‘them or us’ he meant us were the good people, the cops and the decent citizens and the responsible business community, anybody on the side of Law and Order, the way it used to be in those Frank Capra films.

    Them meant bank robbers, homicidal maniacs, rapists,
    guys who torched their own stores for the insurance,
    murderers, all the kooks.

    Things’ve changed so much,these days when we say ‘them or us’ we mean anybody with a badge is us . . . all the rest of you are them.”

  4. There’s a good reason the military disciplines active-duty and reserve members who publicly criticize the commander-in-chief: Such criticism undermines civilian control of the military, one of this country’s prime founding tenets. The same thing ought to happen to police officers who publicly criticize their civilian overseers, and for the same reason. And I absolutely do not favor the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger approach where this is concerned. Civilians need to make it bluntly, abundantly clear to cops that if they publicly step outside the ranks to criticize civilian overseers, it’ll cost them their jobs. If they want to criticize elected officials they work for, let them get off the public tit to do it.

    (And spare me First Amendment nonsense. As a journalist, I voluntarily accepted far more sweeping limits on my public language and conduct than we’d be asking cops to accept.)

  5. the only way diblasio comes back is if he goes on the offensive, and does so publicly. i’m not talking about being more divisive, i’m talking about being a leader with cajones. he needs to talk about the 10 million people that need to be served with respect while he talks about the 35,000 cops that have the hard task in doing so. he needs to speak to what a “rogue cop” means, in plain and simple terms, and separate them from the pack of upstanding officers. he needs to talk about how being tough on crime doesn’t have to equate with harassment. he needs to present a vision for this city that isn’t about tit for tat, but one about justice, for everyone.

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