Even after the dubious correction posted by the Gothamist about NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s pronouncement of “what is democracy,” where the asserted duty to “respect” police morphed into a duty to “respond” to police, the dysmorphic vision of our relative roles in society remained manifest. Not to feed into the anger and craziness, but the primary duty, the first responsibility, is Bratton’s to make his cops treat people with respect and courtesy, not the other way around.
This is dangerous turf to discuss. For those filled with anger and hatred toward the police, as an occupying force subjugating the citizenry through the abuse of their authority and force, this feeds into the cries for resistance and violence. If the cops are going to break into your house at night, or beat the living daylights out of you before figuring out if you’re the guy they even want to beat (and putting aside the entire question of the wrongfulness of the beating at all), then must we not resist? Must we not defend our lives, our homes, our families against this “band of violent thugs” called the police?
The adage heard too many times is “better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.” It’s uttered by both sides, and a foundational justification for the First Rule of Policing. But it’s hard, if not impossible, to argue that not all police are violent, malevolent, when a person finds themselves on the receiving end of arbitrary violence at the hands of the police.
Would Bratton ask us to be good Americans by acquiescing in our own deaths? What if it was only a debilitating beating? Would it matter if they were beating the wrong person or the right person? Would our children be any better off knowing their parent was killed so that a cop could make it home safely?
By no stretch of the imagination do I advocate the use of violence to resist the police. It rarely turns out well, and more importantly, horrific abuses of force remain, thankfully, the outlier. Most interactions don’t end in anyone getting hurt, and for everyone’s sake, I think it’s best to keep it that way and fight any wrongfulness afterward. But this does little to comfort the person who isn’t sure whether he’s the guy who will die today because of some cop’s “well-intended” use of excessive force.
I put “well-intended” in scare quotes because it so easy to explain, sometimes lie, about why force was necessary. “I felt threatened,” is really all it takes, and then make up some utter nonsense about “an aggressive stance” and toss in a “clenched fist.” To police and those who adore them, this explains everything. And whoever ended up dead or beaten got what they deserve.
Bill Bratton is no fool. Tone deaf, perhaps, but hardly stupid. It cannot be possible that the killing of Eric Garner, so early in the tenure of his second stab at commissioner, doesn’t trouble him enormously. He wants to be a star, beloved by all for both the eradication of crime and the spread of happiness across the City. He wants a statue of himself in front of 1 Police Plaza.
In his “rant” about Bratton’s remarks, Mark Draughn at WindyPundit ended with a point that struck me:
If “broken windows” works, they should try it on cops. Maybe if they prosecuted the crap out of these cops and hit them with truly pants-shitting prison sentences, it would discourage the NYPD’s culture of lawlessness.
I happen to agree with much of the theoretical underpinnings of the Broken Windows theory of policing. I remember the South Bronx when Bratton first pursued this approach, and it was a festering hole of hopelessness and decay. When small offenses are ignored, tolerated, they lend themselves to an atmosphere where the basic social norms, from a lack of courtesy toward each other to petty destruction, is a way of life. It’s no good for anyone. It’s no way to live.
This isn’t to say that every offense demands arrest and prosecution, and certainly not the use of force, but that acquiescence in the petty conduct that makes life more unpleasant for others leads to a place that looks like the South Bronx back then.
Windy’s point, that if the Broken Windows theory applies to others, why shouldn’t it apply to the police, really hit home. We tolerate all manner of petty misconduct by cops. We’ve come to tolerate horrific misconduct, such as the killing of a human being, by cops.
Bratton comes to his job with enormous clout. He’s something of a legend in the police world, with the bona fides to change the culture if he chooses. The myriad small wrongs, cops running red lights and speeding to be there when the donuts come out of the oven, can be stopped. Cops speaking rudely to people who ask for directions on the streets of Manhattan. Cops tossing black kids in Harlem to make their numbers. Cops killing Eric Garner. If the police find that the small wrong aren’t tolerated, maybe they will take seriously the notion that big wrongs, the horrible wrongs, like killing Eric Garner, will not be tolerated.
Maybe this is overly optimistic, a naïve fantasy of a lawyer who wants to believe that we can do far, far better than we are now, without more harm coming to anyone. But if Bill Bratton wants that statue of him in front of 1 Police Plaza, and believes that Broken Windows works, then he should make it happen for his cops first. Don’t demand of others what you refuse to do yourself.
There doesn’t have to be another press conference to rationalize why his cops killed another man, and what we can do to make his cops’ job easier and lives happier, before he stops the madness. If his theory is true, then let Bill Bratton put it to good use with his cops. Maybe then he’ll earn the respect the Gothamist mistakenly wrote he demanded of us.