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.