Thursday, 22 January 2015

Mayor de Blasio and Patrick Lynch @ Reichenbach

In the Conan Doyle series, the final struggle between Sherlock Holmes and archfoe Moriarty ends when they both tumble, locked in a final embrace, into the Reichenbach Falls. Moriarty hates Holmes for frustrating his criminal activity, and he is a far cleverer adversary than the mundane evildoers that Holmes easily hoovers up with his detective skills. But the price of his hatred is mutual destruction.

I fear that’s the outcome we can anticipate in the ongoing war between the NYPD union chief Patrick Lynch and our remarkably decent mayor, Bill de Blasio. While more public and private jockeying will follow last year’s disastrous events as the city and its cops figure out how to coexist, the brands of both, the hothead cops-do-no-wrong-ever Lynch and the clumsy political neophyte de Blasio, are damaged, probably beyond repair.

Lynch cashed in on the murders of two cops by a deranged gunman who cited the Garner and Brown cases, thereby trashing weeks of patient, largely pacific protest by thousands of New Yorkers concerned about racial targeting and abuse (myself included). He immediately blamed the protest movement and the mayor for the assassinations just as half of Washington will accuse Edward Snowden if another major terrorist attack ever takes place on U.S. soil. It’s outrageous but resonates with many citizens.

But Lynch overplayed his hand and began to act like someone had elected him mayor. The back-turning funeral incidents and the work slowdown made Lynch look juvenile and dangerous. He successfully demonstrated to one and all that he sees the department as a sort of Praetorian guard that possesses the city rather than merely policing it, a sovereign entity whose corporate spirit mystically brings New York into existence and without which the metropolis will sink back into the primordial slime.

That was a fatal error on the part of the mostly-white leadership of the police union, and the city has turned against Lynch specifically as a demagogue. The work stoppage also exposed the corruption built into everyday police work here as cops are driven to fulfill quotas of arrests and generate lucrative fines that are extracted from mostly minority detainees (a la Ferguson), upon which the city has shamefully come to depend for income. Lynch’s illuminating comment directing the force only to make “necessary” arrests will come back to haunt him both for what it implies (they normally arrest “unnecessarily”?) and for the blatant usurpation of civilian authority.

But de Blasio has probably wrecked his tenure as well with his handling of the admittedly awful situation. While his comments before the cop killings were unpopular with the rank and file, they weren’t false—everybody knows his mixed-race son has to be more careful with the cops and exactly why that is. While de Blasio needed to show understanding of cops’ fears after the killings, he should have simultaneously called them out over their disrespect, not just of himself but of us, the voters who put him in office and who are the cops’ ultimate superiors in our republican form of government. We needed to hear de Blasio remind Lynch and his mob that the people are sovereign, not the NYPD nor its union, and that the city that provides them with firearms has the right to tell them exactly how those weapons will and will not be used. He should have chastised them for thinking and behaving otherwise while holding out the olive branch.

Instead, de Blasio has looked weak, and that never ends well. He’s backed away from the sympathy he once expressed with the protest movement, indirectly reinforcing Lynch’s blood libel. He talks about better protections for cops as if the public’s fear of them has magically dissipated—it hasn’t. Nobody is coming out of this sorry episode looking like they know how to lead the city through the minefield of racial politics and racialized policing. While we await the inevitable next deadly incident, the mayor and the policeman remain locked in mortal combat and heading for the rocky falls below. Conan Doyle was forced to resuscitate Holmes after Reichenbach and bring him back for more stories, but I suspect not even the creator of Sherlock Holmes could write either Lynch or de Blasio into a new chapter.

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