Retreat of the great liberal hope

January 8, 2015

Bill de Blasio is letting police unions and Republican activists push the political climate rightward, writes New York City activist and WBAI radio co-host Sandy Boyer.

NO SOONER were two New York City police officers gunned down by a mentally unstable Baltimore man than the police union and right-wing politicians went on the attack. Their target was the Black Lives Matter protests and New York City's liberal mayor Bill de Blasio.

Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, released a statement saying that there is "blood on many hands tonight," including "those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest."

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani blamed the protests on "four months of propaganda...that everybody should hate the police. I don't care how you want to describe it--that's what those protests are all about." He complained that de Blasio had "created an impression with the police that he was on the side of the protesters."

Neither Lynch nor Giuliani would go anywhere near the simple truth that the man who killed the two police officers had no connection whatever with the Black Lives Matter movement. Ismaaiyl Brinsley suffered from chronic depression, was sexually abused as a child, told a court he had received psychiatric treatment and repeatedly attempted suicide.

New York police turn their backs toward Mayor Bill de Blasio
New York police turn their backs toward Mayor Bill de Blasio

On the last day of his life, Brinsley went to see his former girlfriend, Shaneka Thompson, in suburban Baltimore. He put a gun to his head. When Thompson talked him out of committing suicide, Brinsley shot and wounded her. Then he took a bus to New York City and killed the two police officers in Brooklyn.

Brinsley had no discernible ideology. No one knows why he decided to shoot and kill two New York City police officers and then kill himself. In the end, his life and death were a failure of the mental health system, not the product of any political movement.

What is certain is that killing police does nothing to advance the cause of the Black Lives Matter movement. The problem is not individual police officers but the entire policing system that protects order and property, not people. Or, as tens of thousands chanted on marches throughout the country, "The whole damn system is guilty."

AS MUCH as Patrick Lynch and his right-wing allies detest and fear the protesters, their immediate target has been Bill de Blasio.

Right after the two officers died, Lynch told his members that "blood on the hands starts on the steps of city hall in the office of the mayor." He accused de Blasio of throwing cops under the bus. A few days before the shooting, Lynch had told officers that de Blasio "is not running the city of New York. He thinks he's running a fucking revolution."

Failed Republican state Senate candidate and Tea Party leader Joe Concannon is using the two dead policemen to raise money for an anti-de Blasio media campaign. As early as August, he wrote in the right wing Frontpage magazine--whose motto is "Inside every liberal is a totalitarian screaming to get out"--that de Blasio was "trashing the police at every opportunity." Concannon tried to prey on fears of an "emboldened criminal element, more violent streets and communities wondering when is it going to hit us next."

Lynch and the Republican politicians said they were incensed by de Blasio's supposed sympathy with the Black Lives Matter protesters. They claimed to be shocked when he recounted how he and his African American wife Chirlane McCray advised their teenage son to take special care in any encounter with police officers. They even pretended that this was somehow whipping up violence against the police.

Behind all this rhetoric is a very real political agenda. The right wing wants to force de Blasio to get tough on the protesters and make it more difficult for them to march. Giuliani charged that de Blasio was "allowing protests to get out of control." He complained that "the protest are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged."

IN THE face of these attacks, De Blasio has retreated as fast and far as he can. He has stopped expressing sympathy for the Black community or the victims of police violence. He even allowed Lynch to dictate who he can consult--the police union head demand that the mayor stop meeting with Rev. Al Sharpton.

De Blasio held a "peace meeting" to try to appease the police unions. According to the New York Times, "Mr. de Blasio emphasized his common ground with the [police] unions, highlighting his reservations about a city council bill requiring officers to identify themselves during exchanges with civilians and to give a reason for the encounters. He also said anti-police vitriol from protesters was unacceptable and noted that he had brought in a highly respected commissioner, William J. Bratton."

The mayor could have added that he had unsuccessfully urged the Black Lives Matter movement to call off demonstrations until the two slain police officers were buried. Or that he is opposing a city council bill to outlaw police using the chokehold that killed Eric Garner.

Coming out of the meeting, Lynch quickly pressed his advantage: "Our thought here today is that actions speak louder than words, and time will tell." He obviously intends to extract even more concessions from de Blasio, such as a crackdown on Black Lives Matter protesters to drive them off the streets.

De Blasio has now painted himself into a corner where he can't fight back against the right-wing onslaught. From now on, every concession will have to be to them. There will be no proposals for policing reform or talk of a crackdown on police brutality.

Already, de Blasio has become the virtual prisoner of his police commissioner, Bill Bratton. He no longer says a word about policing without Bratton by his side.

Di Blasio needs Bratton to shield him from police protests like the cops who turned their backs on him at the funerals of the two officers killed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley. More seriously, the police are trying to hurt de Blasio by refusing to issue parking and traffic tickets. Summonses for low-level offenses have been cut in half. There is an implied threat that police could let muggings and robberies get out of control.

But de Blasio isn't hiding behind just any top cop. Bill Bratton is the champion of the "Broken Windows" theory of policing, which holds that police can reduce violent crimes like murder, rape and mugging by rounding up masses of people for minor violations known as quality-of-life offenses. It was "Broken Windows" that led directly to the death of Eric Garner when cops on Staten Island harassed him for selling untaxed cigarettes on the street.

De Blasio has swiftly become the number one fan of the "Broken Windows" theory. If he dared to criticize it any way, he would immediately be accused of inciting cop killers.

"Political wisdom" dictates that since he already has the support of liberals and the Black community, de Blasio should now court the police and their powerful supporters, like the conservative talk radio stations and the rabidly right wing New York Post.

De Blasio's capitulation to the right wing and the police may make life difficult for the Black Lives Matter movement. At the very least, we can expect more denunciations of "irresponsible" demonstrations and new demands that protesters be stopped from marching. There may be arrests for things like protesting without a permit or blocking the sidewalk.

Whatever the future brings, the movement certainly isn't going to be able to count on any friends at City Hall. It will have to stay on the streets, depend on the power of their communities, and reach out to new allies. This may not be easy, but Black lives are worth fighting for.

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