Friday, 2 January 2015

What's next with the NYPD?

The next chapter about policing and the rights of citizens to be secure in their bodies will unfold this week as the second murdered cop is buried, probably with the same juvenile display of snubbing of the mayor by the NYPD as occurred last week.

We’re often told that many cops are well-intentioned public servants and that we shouldn’t generalize about them or raise slanderous slogans like NYPD = KKK. That’s probably true, and it would be nice to see some of them display that decent, civic attitude by refusing to play along with Lynch’s inflammatory and, in fact, subversive defiance of civilian authority. Every time they cops as a body support police union head Patrick Lynch’s insistence that the force is independent of the civilian authority and will set its own terms of employment and deployment. By doing so, they are behaving like a fascist army independent of democratic control and popular sovereignty. If individual cops don’t like being viewed that way, they can make choices.

There are a number of possible developments of interest in the cop-mayor standoff this week, aside from the second funeral. Labor unions may have something to say about the police union’s antics, which should be interesting as many of them support De Blasio. It will be curious to see how much they support the cops’ right to engage in collective bargaining versus how much alarm they feel at the scot-free treatment of the Staten Island chokeholder in the public death of Eric Garner.

Meanwhile, the obvious work slowdown ordered by Lynch is having the curious effect of fulfilling one of the demands of the movement against police abuse and overreach—the stop the petty harrassment arrests that have characterized the “broken windows” policy inaugurated by Commissioner Bratton during his first term of office under Giuliani. As the Atlantic columnist Matt Ford pointed out, cops announced that they would only perform “absolutely necessary” arrests, immediately raising the question of whether the hundreds of loitering, disorderly conduct, marihuana possession and other quota-fulfilling charges have anything to do with keeping the city safe. Lynch and his buddies better be careful that they don’t accidentally prove that the force is a bloated army of occupation heavy with excess personnel. People may also realize how much cops are revenue agents for the city, charging poor people with loads of bullshit misdemeanors to extract hefty fines from them Ferguson-style.

But for depth of analysis of the meaning of the cop revolt, leave it to the Brits, specifically David Bromwich in the London Review of Books, who frames a discussion of the U.S. Senate torture report within the context of the Garner killing. Bromwich lays out in depressing detail not only the actions covered in that report but how the Obama and Bush Administrations constructed a seamless web of impunity in which none of the perpetrators, liars, conspirators, defenders and coverers-up of the torture regimen have suffered the slightest penalty. (The Intercept is doing a devastating series on how many of the torture insiders have cashed in handsomely and are enjoying financial gain along with their immunity from both prosecution and even the merest hint of moral shaming.)

Using the Garner case as a touchstone, Bromwich notes that the application of torture was once anathema, like slavery.

It is said that people have always tortured. Indeed they have, and so, too, have people always had an appetite for slavery. But the judgment of slavery in the 21 st century is very different from what it was in the 19 th; and before 2001, the same had come to be true of torture; it was understood as an atrocious practice which no one should defend and no one should want to get away with. This was the recent heritgage that Bush and Cheney tore to shreds.

And I would add, that Obama definitively buried with his call to “turn the page--” a phrase used by one Augusto Pinochet in his time about exactly the same sort of accusation.

Obama has arrogated to himself the right to preside over a system that can torture without punishment, lie about torture without sanction, and suppress the truth about torture without embarassment. While the torture regime, the waterboarding and the black sites of Thailand and Romania allegedly have been superseded (though we have no way of knowing for sure and certainly not at Guantánamo), civilian death by drone remains official policy, ordered every Tuesday by a simple flourish of the president’s signing hand (the left, in this case). No wonder the local cops feel aggrieved when they are criticized for applying the same principles in their efforts to control the streets: fists, muscle, mass arrests, prisons and all the accoutrements of Cheney’s “dark side.” It must seem unfair that the security apparatus in Washington and Langley, Virginia, get to run their own affairs and blow off their civilian chiefs while Pat Lynch’s boys get called out on the carpet for a lousy chokehold gone wrong.

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