Opinion | The de Blasio Disappointment

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On Saturday, during the demonstrations sparked by George Floyd’s killing, two New York Police Department SUVs drove into a crowd of protesters in Brooklyn who were pelting them with projectiles. The cars knocked several people over. In aerial footage, the road behind the vehicles was mostly clear — it looked as if they could have backed up instead.

It was one of several scenes of New York Police Department violence caught on video over the last several days. On Friday, State Senator Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn, who told my colleagues he went to a protest to try and serve as a mediator with the police, was pepper sprayed and arrested. Video showed a police officer violently shoving a young woman to the ground; she ended up in the hospital. The next day, a cop approached a young black man who was standing with hands in the air, yanked down his mask and pepper sprayed him.

Many of the New Yorkers who elected Bill de Blasio mayor seven years ago once thought he was made for a moment like this. In one of his campaign ads, titled “Dignity,” he spoke about talking to his biracial son, Dante, about the inevitability of being stopped by the police. A voice-over called de Blasio “the only candidate to end the stop-and-frisk era that targets minorities.” He took office just before New York City agreed to pay $18 million to settle wrongful arrest lawsuits stemming from the police crackdown on protests at the 2004 Republican National Convention. It was hard, at the time, to imagine anything like that happening on his watch.

But late Saturday night, addressing the unrest in New York, de Blasio seemed to see the confrontations almost entirely through the eyes of law enforcement. “I’m not going to blame officers who were trying to deal with an absolutely impossible situation,” he said of the cops in the two SUVs. The next day he called for an investigation into the incident, but praised the N.Y.P.D. for showing “tremendous restraint.” It took him until Monday to forcefully condemn it.

But that December, a man named Ismaaiyl Brinsley killed two off-duty officers, saying on Instagram that it was revenge for the deaths of Garner and Brown. Many in the N.Y.P.D. blamed de Blasio for encouraging anti-police sentiment. Eugene O’Donnell, a former N.Y.P.D. officer and lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told me the mayor “helped get three officers murdered.” At the funeral of one of the officers, police turned their backs on de Blasio, a traumatic moment that changed the trajectory of his administration. He’d seen police nearly riot against former Democratic mayor David Dinkins in 1992 when Dinkins began the process of creating a Civilian Complaint Review Board. As if fearing a total loss of control, he became cowed.

Even now, when de Blasio appears much more inclined to take the side of the police, parts of the force are at war with him. On Saturday night, the mayor’s daughter, Chiara, was arrested while protesting for unlawful assembly. The Sergeants Benevolent Association, a police union known for its vitriolic hatred of the mayor, tweeted out her arrest report, including personal details like her driver’s license information. “How can the NYPD protect the city of NY from rioting anarchist when the Mayors object throwing daughter is one of them,” said the tweet, which has since been deleted.

The middle ground the mayor is trying to chart between his progressive base and the police may simply not exist. “He’s not going to get anyone on his side at this point,” said Brad Lander, the city councilman who occupies de Blasio’s old seat. “He neither will succeed in persuading communities of color and people fighting hard for racial justice and police reform, nor is he going to have the cops on his side.” The yawning chasm between the two camps is precisely why so many cities are on fire. It would take an exemplary leader to rise above the inferno. De Blasio, who I’ve defended in the past, is no longer even a good one.


By Michelle Goldberg

2020-06-01 20:19:36

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