Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Winds shifting on police abuses

It’s fun to watch how the New York Daily News handles controversies here because the tabloid plays an intermediate role in the city’s political culture. We have in one corner the Murdochian Post pumping for the triumph of Satan and reacting to anything the liberal-ish Times might favor. The Daily News is opportunistically conservative and likes to trash Mayor DeBlasio, but when the zeitgeist is evolving, it’s the more flexible News that will reflect it first.

In the pictures above the News shows how contemporary wisdom on the NYPD is shifting. It signals, Enough. Cellphone videos have changed the game; everything is no longer permitted to the cops, and police culture, like it or not, has to change. The usual post-abuse tactic of charging victims with assaulting the officers who beat the crap out of you doesn’t float when you have citizen documentarians taping the incidents and displaying the proof. Ironically, the explosion of video cameras snooping on us everywhere has caught cops on tape bashing citizens when they thought no one was looking.

The News’ columnist Mike Lupica explains today how the paper will frame the problem: it’s not race, he says, but a cowboy-cop mentality, a few wild men. Lupica’s bad apple theory implies that once the violators are reined in, good policing will thrive.

Lupica’s argument is based on the race of some perpetrators of the most egregious examples: the three guys who shot up unarmed Sean Bell on his 2006 wedding night, for example, were all black and Hispanic. The police sergeant who placidly presided over a prone Eric Garner last week after he was choked unconscious by Staten Island cops was a black female. Therefore, says the News, the incidents weren’t racist.

There’s one big hole in that theory, though—all those victims and the vast majority of others are black. The fact that non-white officers are complicit in these abuses only means that the dominant institutional culture, historically very race-tinged, has incorporated them. It’s not hard to imagine how hard life on the force would be for a black or Hispanic officer who refuses to go along with the NYPD way—historically, a very race-tinged way.

DeBlasio and Bratton continue to say investigations are proceeding on the Garner case, and they went further this week, promising full cooperation to a federal probe if one should occur. The News has reported on the repeated complaints and out-of-court settlements of police abuse involving some of the same Staten Island cops responsible for the latest NYPD debacle. These are all signs that there is real momentum for putting a stop to free-lance thuggery in uniform, but it’s too early to know if real change will follow.

Nonetheless, the rhetoric is heating up, and when it comes from the News, Rambo cops should worry. Lupica:

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton says the first step is retraining our cops in the use of force.

But you only have to go to the videotapes to see that some cowboy cops need more than retraining.

They need to be fired. And if the evidence is as strong as it looks, these cowboy cops need to be indicted and put on trial.

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