Former NYC Detective: Police Union Head Pat Lynch 'Is Throwing Gasoline on the Flames'
New York City is grappling with the aftermath of the first targeted killings of police officers in years. Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were ambushed in broad daylight while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn on Saturday. The shooter, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, fled to a nearby subway station where he turned the gun on himself. Brinsley had shot his former girlfriend hours earlier in Maryland, leaving her wounded. He later used her Instagram account to make anti-police statements suggesting he would kill officers to avenge the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Criminal records show Brinsley had a troubled history with the law, with multiple arrests and at least two years behind bars. His family says he had mental issues, including a reported suicide attempt a year ago. But the head of the city’s biggest police union has faulted the recent anti-police brutality protests and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has expressed sympathy for the movement’s concerns. After the killings, Patrick Lynch of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association said: “There’s blood on many hands tonight: those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protests, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. … That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall — in the office of the mayor.” We discuss the officers’ murders, the recent protests against police brutality and police-community relations going forward with two guests: Graham Weatherspoon, a retired detective with the New York City Police Department and board member of the Amadou Diallo Foundation; and Steven Thrasher, a weekly columnist for the Guardian US.
PATRICK LYNCH: There’s blood on many hands tonight: those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated. That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall—in the office of the mayor.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Pat Lynch, the president of the largest police union in New York City, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.
Well, for more, we’re joined by two guests here in New York City. Graham Weatherspoon is back with us, a retired detective with the New York City Police Department, also a board member of the Amadou Diallo Foundation. And Steven Thrasher joins us. He’s a weekly columnist for the Guardian US, his most recent piece headlined “Two NYPD cops get killed and ‘wartime’ police blame the protesters. Have we learned nothing?” . . . Let’s start with Graham Weatherspoon. Your response to what happened and the response of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association to what happened?
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: Well, I’ve had flashbacks. I came into policing during a very violent period in New York City in the mid-’70s, when crime was off the hook and guns were found everywhere. And police officers at that time were being killed at the rate of no less than one a month in New York City. I was on a funeral detail with transit police. I attended funerals routinely. And we rehearsed at the Brooklyn Casket Company doing the procedures.
My partner was shot in the face in 1978. He was off duty, going out to dinner with his mother. And he saw something that didn’t look right, and he went to check it out, and it was a robbery of an elderly woman. And he was shot point-blank in the face. Kenny survived, thank God. The call came over the radio that a member had been shot. And the transit police had poor radio communication, and I called the command. We were working in the Village. And when I called, a fellow, Ralph, says, “Spoon, it was Kenny.” And I collapsed, at the West 4th Street Station.
I can only imagine what the families are going through. We know that there’s always a chance—and, you know, death stalks all of us in so many different ways. But to have an incident such as this, even with the timing of the incident, it’s beyond tragic. It’s horrific. Not since the Byrne execution, or attempted execution of Byrne, have we seen something this evil.
Pat Lynch is throwing gasoline on the flames. I think that he should take time to consider what he’s saying. I understand he’s a union leader. His job is to promote the welfare and the benefits for his members. But this doesn’t fall at the feet of City Hall. This is a societal issue. This man had an extensive criminal history, and he’s not a New Yorker. He was not part of anything going on in New York. We know he shot his girlfriend. He drove to New York. He was suicidal. He had an—he took an attempt on his life a year ago. So there are mental problems. And we have a very violent society, unfortunately. So, here it is that things have escalated in that man’s life to the point, “Well, I’m going to kill some cops, but I really want to die.” And we generally call it “suicide by cop.” You know, when you see people come out and do crazy things just so that they can be shot by the police, they really want to die. But in this case—and I’ve seen it before, cases I’ve worked on, where we had a guy barricaded, and he took his own life, after killing two people on Nostrand Avenue.
So, it’s—there’s a lot. But I wish that Patrick Lynch would consider drawing back from the politics. He doesn’t make the call as to whether or not the mayor or the police commissioner will be present at the funeral of a deceased member. That is a call that’s made by the family.
AMY GOODMAN: What are you referring to?
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: He had said a while back, and quite prophetically, he said, “If a police officer is shot, they will not be welcome at the funeral.” Well, that was a reprehensible statement. And Pat is going to have to—I think Commissioner Bratton is going to have to sit down with him and rein him in. Pat Lynch is a member of the New York City Police Department. And to bring adverse criticism against the department is grounds for dismissal. So, he will only be a union president as long as he is a member of the police department. He is still a police officer. And I’m sure that Mayor de Blasio is going to sit down with Commissioner Bratton, and the three of them are going to have to come to terms.
And I think that Pat should bring it down, because no one in New York—nobody—my pastor spoke about the officers yesterday in church, and Brother Ramos, he had just completed his chaplaincy training. He goes to a church that’s the sister church to my church. He was due to get his certification this week. These are not bad guys. They weren’t bad guys. They weren’t part of the problem; they were part of the solution.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Well, Graham, on that note, there’s been an attempt, obviously, by some, especially the PBA, to sort of link what happened with Brinsley to the overall protests, as if all of the—as if the protesters were protesting against police, in general, rather than specific practices. Your reaction to this attempt?
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: No, you know, my mother used to call me when something happened. She’d call me up. I said, “Mom, I didn’t do it. You know? Give me a chance. I didn’t do it.” You know, we can’t broad-brush anybody. Blacks have been broad-brushed in the society. Latinos have been broad-brushed. All groups have been broad-brushed. And there are some outstanding police officers out there, and some of them I know personally, you know, and they’re not happy about what has transpired with the situation in Staten Island and in other cities, because it casts a dim light on police officers.
So, the death of Eric Garner, we’re waiting for the grand jury, all these things—I don’t think that the general public in New York City is looking to go into a violence mode. Protest is the right, it’s the constitutional right of the people, and we have to remember that. It’s not a matter of being policed to the point where you are now under a lockdown by the department, whether it’s New York City or any other city. People have the right to protest and make their voice heard to the political entities who are required to set policy and procedures.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion. Graham Weatherspoon is a retired detective with the New York City Police Department, also board member of the Amadou Diallo Foundation. Amadou Diallo, of course, was the young man who died in a hail of police bullets—41, to be exact—on February 4th, 1999. His mother, Kadiatou Diallo, has formed this foundation. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.