Friday, 8 August 2014

Garner case is moment of truth for De Blasio / Bradley

Mayor De Blasio’s handling of the Staten Island chokehold case that led to the death of Eric Garner has been a bit hamhanded, but it reflects his inexperience at high-profile leadership and the shortcomings of his communications team. Underneath is an apparent desire on the part of the mayor to keep everyone happy. But he may soon find out that on issues of white cops causing the death of black males, that may not be possible.

Up to now, the cops consistently have got their way, avoided sanction for shocking behavior (Bell, Graham, to name the most egregious) and gone back to insisting that nothing is wrong with the current system. If De Blasio wants things to work differently, he’s going to have to piss them off and live with the consequences.

De Blasio and his new/returned police commissioner Bradley handled the first news of the Garner incident well: they bowed to the inevitable need for an ‘investigation’ but escalated the stakes subtly by recognizing the obvious illicit chokehold that was on every TV channel regularly for the whole city to see.

But De Blasio goofed badly by inviting Al Sharpton to a meeting without telling him that it was to be a public love-fest with TV cameras rolling. Sharpton, legitimately, refused to be part of a public game of pattycakes before the Garner case had gone anywhere.

If the police chief and the mayor want community dialogue and understanding, they will have to rein in rogue cops and stop them from breaking the department’s own rules against chokeholds and other rampant abuses—THEN call for a let’s-all-get-along meeting.

Sharpton nailed them both when he said that retraining 35,000 cops yet again on what they’re supposed to do and not do is meaningless when nobody gets punished for ignoring the guidelines, even when they end up killing a guy. Criminal charges, he suggested, would be a much better didactic strategy.

This is just as true in policing as it is in banking. As the financial blogs have been insisting since the 2008 collapse, politicians can say whatever they want, promise the sky and pass a raft of laws. But when no banker goes to jail for fraud, the message remains, Keep doing it; your company’s shareholders will pay the fines, and you’ll walk away with the ill-gotten gains.

Meanwhile, there was a story this week that the increasingly laughable Citizen’s Complaint Review Board has received over a thousand complaints about the use of chokeholds by the NYPD. The whole idea of taking a complaint through ‘proper’ channels is therefore a joke. The cases take forever to move through the CCRB system, and its chairman insists that the panel’s job is to improve police-community relations, i.e., ask the officers to play nice next time.

That’s exactly what Sharpton refused to do, and De Blasio shouldn’t be asking him to in the first place. Instead, Sharpton gave him and Bradley both the tongue-lashing that they both deserved, and the jughead faction in the NYPD went nuts.

De Blasio is facing his first big moment of truth on this one. Sometimes political leadership to bring about change means confrontation, not just public relations. He and Bradley will have to make it clear that certain behavior by cops will not be tolerated whether the thuggish PBA head Patrick Lynch likes it or not. Cops will need to know that violent takedowns of non-resisting suspects, especially including the black males they consistently target, will result in unpleasant consequences up to and including criminal prosecution.

The DAs are going to hate it (they want cop BFFs to help them win cases and advance their careers), and the rabid Murdochian tabloid will have a shitfit. But the Daily News is signaling support for a tough line on uniformed bullies in recognition that the city cannot afford another round of Crown Heights-type racial strife. We are just a couple of incidents away from an explosion that, once it occurs, will take a decade to repair.

Lynch and the cops-do-no-wrong faction can burst a carotid all they want, but they’re on the defensive on the Garner case, and the public is with the mayor. It won’t last forever, though. The mayor has the cards he needs; it’s time to play them.

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