NYPD Officer Speaks Out on Fellow Cops Who Turned Backs to Mayor & Why People of Color Fear Police
The following is a transcript of a Democracy Now! segment.
Some 20,000 people, including a sea of uniformed officers, gathered in New York City on Saturday for the funeral of NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos, one of the two killed in a targeted ambush one week before. It was said to be one of the largest police funerals in New York City history. Controversy erupted as hundreds of police turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio as he delivered a eulogy inside the church, protesting his earlier comments on police brutality and racial profiling. It was the second time officers have turned their backs on de Blasio since the two officers were killed. We are joined by Adhyl Polanco, an NYPD officer who says those who shunned de Blasio do not represent the feelings held by many police officers. Polanco previously blew the whistle on superiors who told officers to meet a quota under "stop and frisk," or face punishment — a move that led to his suspension without pay and later modified assignment.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This is a city of courage and character, having faced and overcome the toughest challenges. And I’m absolutely confident, as you are, that spirit is still alive and well in this city. And I’m absolutely confident it will guide you in the days and weeks ahead. I believe that this great police force and this incredibly diverse city can and will show the nation how to bridge any divide.
AMY GOODMAN: Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu are the first New York City police officers to die in the line of duty since 2011. Among Saturday’s most anticipated speakers was New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. While those attending the funeral inside the church quietly applauded him, video shows hundreds of officers outside the church turning their backs to the video monitor as the mayor spoke, in protest of his earlier comments on police brutality and racial profiling. It was the second time officers have turned their backs on de Blasio since the two officers were killed. Before the killings, the head of New York City’s largest police union called on officers to request that the mayor not attend their funerals if they were to die in the line of duty. This is an excerpt of Mayor de Blasio’s remarks at the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: The threats against New York’s police are an insult to the law-abiding New Yorkers, and they will not be tolerated. They will be investigated, and they will be prosecuted.
AMY GOODMAN: That was actually Governor Andrew Cuomo. This is Mayor de Blasio.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: He was so committed to the NYPD. It meant so much to him to be a member of the finest police force in this country. He always wanted to join the NYPD. It wasn’t his first career. He started out as a school safety officer, protecting our kids, and he was much loved in that role. He had a dream that he would one day be a police officer, and he worked for that dream, and he lived it, and became it. He couldn’t wait to take that test. He couldn’t wait to put on that uniform. He believed in protecting others. And those who are called to protect others are a special breed, those who stare down danger, those who sacrifice for all of us.
AMY GOODMAN: All of this comes as New York City’s police commissioner, Bill Bratton, said Sunday it was wrong for police officers to turn their backs as Mayor de Blasio spoke at the funeral of Officer Ramos. Bratton called for less rhetoric and a lot more dialogue to defuse the tension between police and the people they’re meant to serve and protect. A funeral service for the other slain officer, Wenjian Liu, will be held Sunday.
Well, today we hear directly from a New York City police officer, a member of the largest police department in the country. Adhyl Polanco joins us. He’s been with the New York Police Department since 2005. When I interviewed him last year, he described how in 2009 he became critical of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy when his superiors told officers to meet a quota of stops, or face punishment. He made audio recordings of the quotas being described during meetings in his precinct, and brought his concerns to authorities, but he said he was ignored. He then took his audio tapes to the media, including The Village Voice, where reporter Graham Rayman wrote a series called "TheNYPD Tapes." For several years, Officer Polanco was suspended with pay, but he’s since returned to work on the police force.
You went to the wake of Officer Ramos. Can you talk about the reaction of the police to the mayor?
ADHYL POLANCO: Good morning. First of all, I’ve got to start by saying I’m not here on behalf of the police department. I’m here on my own, as a citizen, as a concerned citizen of New York. I’m not speaking on their behalf. If you can please repeat your question?
AMY GOODMAN: First, your reaction to the killing of these two officers?
ADHYL POLANCO: It’s an act of a barbaric coward. This is not acceptable. This is not something that anybody can say we’re happy for this. We have lost a brother. We have lost a citizen. I went to the wake and to see the family, the way they’re speaking, to see the church. And the people who are supposed to be angry—his family, his wife, the ones that—the people that are affected the most—they are calling for unity, they are calling for peace. How come we cannot honor what they are calling for?
AMY GOODMAN: Your reaction to your fellow officers turning their back on Mayor de Blasio, not in the church, but outside, because there were so many, they couldn’t all fit in the church?
ADHYL POLANCO: Absolutely wrong, absolutely wrong. Mayor de Blasio came to the police department, that had a lot of issues with before he got to this police department. Mayor de Blasio came with the attitude that "I can fix this police department." But this police department has a culture that is going to make whoever tried to change that culture and life impossible, including the mayor. It’s absolutely wrong to turn their back on the mayor. It absolutely don’t show—this is not what we’re made of. This is—I was not taught—you know, this does not represent the police department. This does not represent how, when a family calls for peace and unity, you’re going to have a hundred officers doing the absolute opposite.
AMY GOODMAN: Do other officers feel as you do?
ADHYL POLANCO: There’s many. There’s many officers that feel like I do. There’s many officers that—
AMY GOODMAN: Last week, the president of the largest police union, your union in New York City, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said the mayor’s office should be held accountable for the deaths of Officers Ramos and Liu. This is Patrick Lynch.
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: On Friday morning, the day after Christmas, many New Yorkers saw a plane flying a banner above the Hudson River that read: "De Blasio, our backs have turned to you." Former NYPD Officer John Cardillo wrote on his blog the officers behind the act felt that "Mayor de Blasio’s dangerous and irresponsible comments about his and his wife’s concern for their son’s safety at the hands of the NYPD fueled the flames that led to civil unrest, and potentially to the deaths of [PO] Wenjian Liu and [PO] Rafael Ramos, as well as the continued threats against NYPD personnel," unquote. Let’s turn to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s remarks, which were made earlier this month amidst protests over lack of police accountability in the Eric Garner case, Eric Garner who died of a police chokehold. He said that he and his wife, Chirlane, who is African-American, fear for the safety of their teenage son Dante.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers he may face. Good young man, law-abiding young man, who never would think to do anything wrong, and yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him. And that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first, that our police are here to protect us and we honor that, and the same time, there’s a history we have to overcome because for so many of our young people there’s a fear, and for so many of our families there’s a fear.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mayor de Blasio speaking amidst the protests around Eric Garner. Adhyl Polanco?
ADHYL POLANCO: How can a parent—how can a parent who has a black child, how can a parent that have seen millions of kids being stopped by stop-and-frisk—and you know the statistics of that—how can the parents of kids and see black kids get killed by police over and over, how can parents that see kids being summonsed illegally, being arrested in their own building for trespassing, and being the treatment that they deserve from—they get from the police department—not from all officers, because not all officers are the same—how can you not responsibly to have that conversation with your son? You have to.
AMY GOODMAN: You brought your son today to the studio.
ADHYL POLANCO: Of course. Of course.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you had that conversation with him?
ADHYL POLANCO: Absolutely. I have to have that conversation.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re a police officer.
ADHYL POLANCO: And I’m a police officer. And I’ve been thrown against the wall off-duty, because they all [inaudible] the mentality that Patrick Lynch and many other officers don’t want to hear about. They don’t have to speak to their kids. They don’t have—if my kids and Patrick Lynch’s son walk the street right now, chances are that, you know, the conversation that I have to have with my son, he won’t have to have. As an officer, I’ve been thrown against the wall. As an officer, I’ve been shown no respect.
AMY GOODMAN: Thrown against the wall by who?
ADHYL POLANCO: By fellow officers, stop-and-frisk, walking to the neighborhood of where my mother lives. Absolutely no need.
AMY GOODMAN: When you were out of uniform.
ADHYL POLANCO: I was out of uniform. And this is—the other thing that they mention is that 50 percent, 60 percent of the population of the police department is Hispanic, because it’s a diverse society. But we are out there. And when we take the uniform, us versus them, we become them. The second I take my uniform off, I’m them. I’m back to the civilian, that, unfortunately—not by this administration, because we cannot say this administration is doing it, but by the 12 years of dictatorship that we had by Bloomberg and Kelly, we had to harass people that did not deserve to be harassed.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel the policy is changing under Mayor de Blasio—
ADHYL POLANCO: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: —and police officer—and Police Chief Bratton?
ADHYL POLANCO: Absolutely, absolutely. Got—welcome Commissioner Bratton. I mean, de Blasio made a mistake. I think that the way he responded to the incident that happened over the bridge, it was not accurate. I don’t think it was appropriate.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain.
ADHYL POLANCO: Over the "alleged," that when the two lieutenants got assaulted, he said that was an alleged.
AMY GOODMAN: During a police protest.
ADHYL POLANCO: Yes. I think that was a mistake. I think—and he’s human. But I think that was provoked. This union has been fighting this mayor since before he became a mayor. And this mayor made his whole campaign around fixing the police department, bringing changes to the police department. And people heard him. And I think it was the one thing that separated him from Quinn and Lhota, it was his approach on how he needed to change and reform the police department. And voters came out.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you feel about the police protests that have been taking place? I mean the protests against police brutality and police violence.
ADHYL POLANCO: Yeah, people need to get it straight: People are not protesting against police. People are not protesting like angels, like Officer Ramos, and people who go out there and do their job every day. They’re not saying these officers shouldn’t be in the street. People are protesting against bad policies that have been in this country for many, many, many years.
AMY GOODMAN: Do think these protests dishonor the slain officers?
ADHYL POLANCO: No, no, not at all. I think these protests were there before the officers. I think the issues that we have to resolve, we cannot deny that they’ve been there before the officers were dead. I think they should have held the protests until after the wake, maybe show a little more respect. But there is still an issue, and that issue cannot be ignored. That issue, you cannot tell people they don’t have the right to protest.
I want to ask everybody—and I see Mayor Giuliani and many others of people stepping up now, I don’t know for what reason, and they want to say that everything was mishandled, that everything was mischaracterized, that the mayor did a terrible mistake. But take a picture of Ferguson, Missouri, when the decision of Michael Brown came over. Take a picture of the gas station on fire. Take a picture of the police cars on fire. And then take a picture of New York when the Eric Garner decision came out. Which one you rather have, as a mayor, as a president, as a government? Which one you would rather have? So you’ve got to give this mayor some credit, if not all, for the way they handled it.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us. That ends our show. Also wanted to point out that Emerald Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, laid a wreath at the officer’s memorial. Adhyl Polanco is a 10-year veteran of the New York Police Department.