Is NYPD's War on Mayor Bill de Blasio Partly War on His Black Family?
In September 1992, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association organized thousands of New York City cops to storm City Hall to protest then-mayor David Dinkins' proposal for an independent civilian agency to investigate police misconduct. The officers trampled on cars, jumped barricades and took over Brooklyn Bridge. Among their grievances was Dinkins' refusal to give them semiautomatic weapons.
One of their slogans was “The Mayor's on Crack.” The former mayor has also said many rank and file officers called him “nigger.” He blamed Rudy Giuliani for being in the middle of the rowdy cops and for nearly causing them to riot.
“Would the cops have acted in this manner toward a white mayor?” he asked in his 2013 memoir, A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic. “No way in hell. If they’d done it to Ed Koch, he would have had them all locked up.”
Ironically, the NYPD has come close to similarly disrespecting our current mayor, Bill de Blasio, who is white. While police have not quite reached the same level of violent rage toward de Blasio, their fight against him is no less vitriolic. Former mayor Rudy Giuliani, NYPD union president Patrick Lynch and many of the white power elite in the New York Police Department see in de Blasio what they saw in Dinkins: a non-white politician who dares to challenge its good ol’ boy system of policing with impunity.
While de Blasio is not black, his family is. His wife, Chirlane McCray, their daughter, Chiara, and son, Dante, reflect the same population the NYPD has brutalized for decades. De Blasio campaigned on police reform and featured Dante in a campaign ad where the teen declared that his dad would end stop-and-frisk, if elected. Once he became mayor, de Blasio ended the city's defense of the policing tactic. The rank and file of the NYPD took that personally. He was NYPD Public Enemy #1 from that point on.
Earlier this month, after a grand jury decided not to indict the officer who caused Eric Garner's death, de Blasio reacted to the decision at a Staten Island church by articulating what many black parents in New York have told their children for years: that he fears for his son if he is ever stopped by police.
"This is profoundly personal for me," he said. "I was at the White House the other day, and the president of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said, I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens. I said to him I did. Because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years, about the dangers he may face. A good young man, a law-abiding young man, who would never 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."
This statement—carefully worded and articulating life as it is lived by many black New Yorkers—enraged the NYPD and its entrenched culture of white supremacy. The police, especially police union chief Lynch, have declared a vile war on the mayor who dares question the status quo. The suggestion that cops may have their unchecked right to act like thugs in blue stripped from them is frightening for those officers who have brutalized minorities in New York City for years with impunity. What is behind such rage? I can't think of any other reason than racism for such anger. It was deeply disrespectful when cops turned their backs on de Blasio when he spoke at Officer Rafael Ramos' funeral, but their race-based hate-mongering goes much deeper than that.
As Max Blumenthal of AlterNet reported Tuesday, active and retired NYPD officers on the online forum On Thee Rant often use racist language when referring to de Blasio and African Americans:
When the mayor hired a former Sharpton aide, Rachel Noerdlinger, as the chief of staff to his wife, Chirlane McCray, then defended Noerdlinger against a torrent of bad press for her relationship with an ex-convict and her son’s Facebook postings referring to cops as “pigs,” NYPD anger exploded.
On a Thee Rant forum, commenters homed in on Noerdlinger’s race (she is black) and her gender. While one commenter described her as “a weed soaked cum dumpster low life POS,” another officer wrote of her and her partner: “The bit-ch will be bugging mofo's ass, if she hasn't done so already, about making nigge-r noise in court and he will begin clobbering her, and then junior will jump in and snap his neck!”
“They're born N I _ _ E R S , live like N I _ _ E R S and usually die like N I _ _ E R S,” a police commenter added. His language was typical of commentary appearing on the forum whenever Noerdlinger's name was mentioned.
The facts and numbers speak for themselves. For the past 20 years, the NYPD has enjoyed unchecked brutality against minorities under the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations. From 2001 to 2013, 81 percent of those given summonses under the "broken windows" policy were black or Latino, according to the New York Daily News. The ACLU reports that nearly 90 percent of New Yorkers who have been stopped and frisked were black or Latino; nine out of 10 of those stopped were not guilty of any crime. Another New York Daily News report reveals that of the 179 cop-involved shootings in the past 15 years, 86 percent of the victims were black or Hispanic when race was known. Only three cops were indicted in those cases; just one was convicted.
Mayor de Blasio's wife, son or daughter could easily have been among those statistics, and de Blasio knows this. His desire to push for police reform isn't just about protecting minorities; he knows his black family members are always at risk of being victimized by a rogue cop. It is personal for him. But it is also personal for the white power structure in the NYPD. They hated when Dinkins tried to rein in abusive practices and make the police more accountable, and it enrages them perhaps even more when the mayor tries to tell them they have to treat black and brown people better.
The NYPD doesn’t even like its own black officers. In 2004, 50 black and Hispanic officers filed a class action lawsuit against the NYPD claiming racial bias in the department's discipline system; the city agreed to pay $25 million to settle the case. If the NYPD discriminates against its own cops, it is not a stretch to believe they would despise having to serve a mayor who has expressed a desire to end racially discriminatory behavior within their ranks. I believe Lynch and many in the NYPD not only hate de Blasio, they hate his family for representing a population in the city the mayor has expressed personal interest in protecting.
For racist cops, De Blasio bringing his black family to the mayor's mansion in the exclusive and white Upper East Side neighborhood is the equivalent of a plantation master marrying a black slave woman and bringing her inside the Big House. Demanding that the NYPD reform is like asking slave owners to accept the Emancipation Proclamation. And it’s going over about as well.
Before I go any further, we have to establish a basic understanding of how I frame policing in America. I consider policing a descendent of the U.S. Marshals Service, an agency once charged with catching runaway slaves. As far as I am concerned, policing in urban American is very similar to slave-catching days. For many white police officers in uniform, their department-issued handgun is the equivalent of an overseer's whip.
For decades, the NYPD has been beating black and Latino New Yorkers into submission, and we're tired of it. The protests in New York reflect that frustration and that is what is so threatening to Lynch. He knows that the man who killed the two officers in Brooklyn had no connection to the protests, so he had to criminalize the protesters, just like the NYPD does with black and brown New Yorkers every day. Lynch's attempt to criminalize peaceful protesters is a distraction tactic straight out of the white supremacist handbook. It's not working and Lynch knows this.
We know de Blasio isn't perfect. Activists didn't appreciate it when he asked them to stop protesting until both slain officers were laid to rest, but most don't see him as the primary issue. Protesters seek to reform the system, whether de Blasio is in office or not.
The attacks against de Blasio have nothing to do with his politics. This is all about a mayor who publicly expresses concern for his black family that closely resembles the New Yorkers cops have terrorized for years. For Lynch and many in the NYPD, the possibility that someone is attempting to rein in that brutality is too much to bear.