The New York Times reports that Police Commissioner Bill Bratton finds himself in the position of negotiating a compromise between his police and the mayor of the City of New York. The putative mission is to relieve the pressure created by the protest at the funeral of Rafael Ramos, the officer killed while sitting in his cruiser at the hand of a crazy.
The protest, officers in uniform turning their back on Mayor de Blasio during his eulogy, was not an exercise of free speech, but an act of insubordination and a manifest threat to the City. They will not tolerate the mayor’s “disloyalty.”
New York City mayors have long tussled with police unions, with off-duty officers rallying on the steps of City Hall or showing up at mayoral events with protest banners. But several city officials as well as current and former officers said the public protest by officers on Saturday at what was a highly ordered and solemn occasion appeared to have little precedent.
“You crossed the line,” said Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, a Democrat and a former police officer. “We all played by one rule: that when you have that uniform on, you don’t get involved in the political atmosphere.”
Contrary to those who fail to grasp the nature of First Amendment rights, the cops’ protest was not a matter of free speech. When they express their view in uniform, they do so in their capacity as governmental officials. In their private capacity, they are entitled to free speech like anyone else. They are not entitled, however, to do so on duty, in uniform or using the authority of their position. They then speak as police officers, not private individuals.
And this is not only the law, but doctrinally critical. As private citizens, we are entitled to be wrong, self-serving and foolish in our views. When we speak on behalf of a government, we are not. A cop is not entitled to express his negative views on an identifiable group while in uniform, even though he has a right to hate anyone he wants as a private individual, and express those views otherwise.
When in uniform, they speak with the authority of their position; it’s not about them, but about the job. That’s the price they chose to pay when they decided to put on a shield. Don’t cry too much about it. The pension on the back end more than makes up for the infringement on their right to express their hate.
The police unions have skirted the problems, simultaneously embracing and distancing themselves from what happened. Though, it’s hard to imagine that they had no finger in the protest.
The night of the killings, Mr. Lynch and the president of the sergeants’ union, Edward D. Mullins, and a small group of other officers turned away from Mr. de Blasio as he walked past them at the hospital where the bodies of the two officers had been taken.
But on Sunday, union officials were quick to distance themselves from the display at the funeral, which they described as spontaneous. “I actually didn’t know it happened until after the funeral,” Mr. Mullins said. “I don’t criticize them for doing it. ”
Now, the commissioner feels compelled to make peace between his angry cops and the City threatened with “love them, no matter what” or suffer the consequences.
Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Bratton will meet with union leaders, but the commissioner did not hold out hope that frayed relations between the mayor and many rank-and-file officers, whose contract expired in 2010, would be quickly repaired. “It is probably a rift that is going to go on for a while longer,” he said.
Rifts between mayors and cops have happened with regularity in New York City’s recent past. The cops hated Mayor David Dinkins, and Rudy Giuliani as well. But this time, the warfare is open and notorious. This time, cops in uniform openly dismissed their duty as if they are entitled to disregard any obligation to the mayor, the City, the public, when they are not showered with the adoration they believe they deserve. This time is different.
There is nothing to compromise here. There can be no peace to be had by somehow smoothing over the hurt feelings police officers hold, whether because Mayor de Blasio told his son how to behave should he be confronted by the police if he is not to be beaten or killed by some officer for his failure to obey as well or quickly as demanded. There is no comparison between two cops murdered for being cops, and black men murdered for not being cops.
It’s not easy to be a cop in New York City, but then, no one forced anybody to take the job. If they can’t bear the responsibility, they shouldn’t wear a shield. But what part of the job is subject to compromise? Should they get to shoot one innocent guy with impunity, but no more? Should they get to toss five black kids against a wall without cause, but no more? What exactly can be negotiated to make the cops feel better about themselves, to feed their hero delusion as if anyone they needlessly harm is somehow justified because they wander the streets impressed by their unfettered authority and unquestioned support of the legal system?
If Mayor de Blasio was wrong to warn his son not to die at the hands of a cop, whose son will you be willing to sacrifice in his place?
That the police were so offended by the harsh reality that they have lost the trust of the people they exist to serve does not mean that the public’s expectation of police is now to be watered down to make them feel less unworthy. Cops are hurt? So is everyone else. But cops took on a responsibility to the public and have failed to fulfill their duty. If that offends them, then get rid of them.
There is no compromise. There is nothing to smooth over. If the cops can’t handle their job, if they can’t take the criticism of their failure to protect and serve, then pull their shields and guns. The position of police officers doesn’t exist to please cops, to make their lives happier, easier and safer.
The position exists to serve the public, to respect constitutional rights, to enforce the law with honor and dignity. Their failure to do so cannot be excused. There is nothing left to compromise.
Update: Mayor de Blasio spoke to a graduating class of the police academy today. He was booed. Murum Aries Attigit, Mr. Mayor. Who owns New York?