Two things happened that day. Antonio Williams was shot to death by New York City police officers. New York City Police Officer Brian Mulkeen was shot to death by New York City police officers. Whether the death of Williams was avoidable is one question. Mulkeen, who was initially thought to have been shot by Williams who, according to the story, went for Mulkeen’s gun, was killed by friendly fire, his own fellow cops.
Williams’ death was one thing. Mulkeen’s death was another. It’s understandable that the unduly passionate might lack the intellectual capacity to distinguish between the two, their world being wrapped up in childish good and evil narratives. It’s also wrong and dangerously simplistic. Even worse, it reflects an inability to grasp cognitive dissonance, that their respect for the value of life is a pretense that only applies to those they favor.
There are two things that have long guided my consideration of such tragedies. The first is the unacceptably foolish notion that all cops are evil. If this requires further explanation, then you have no business here. The second is that every needless death is a tragedy, black, white or blue. If we can be nothing else, be gracious in the face of a tragedy.
So it wasn’t just poor form when a lawyer for Bronx Defenders posted this on Facebook. It reflected that fundamental ignorance for which bad cops are so vehemently, and properly, criticized.
Maybe this was meant as the same sort of gallows humor that has long pervaded the world of criminal law, the “jokes” that were said in private among like-minded people. Cops do it. Prosecutors too. Certainly defense lawyers and even judges. But when it gets released into the wild, it’s no longer an inside baseball joke. Cops are been rightly condemned for their chatrooms reflecting racism, violence and hatred. Would any public defender think it funny or acceptable when they joke about a cop murdering someone?
The death of Police Officer Brian Mulkeen was a tragedy, just as any other needless death is a tragedy. The “headline” wasn’t funny. This is the sort of joke a bad cop would tell, and for which he would be condemned. It’s neither funnier, truer nor more acceptable when uttered by a PD. And it raises the specter of hypocrisy, the good/evil narrative one expects from the stupidest and worst of society rather than a lawyer, a public defender, a person who pretends to claim the moral high ground while being no better than the worst of her enemies.
An apology is due. Recognition that this is false and wrong is warranted. And if this mindset reflects more than gallows humor plus the childishness of going public with the joke, then maybe they need to come to grips with their deeply flawed ideology.
James Gagliano, however, couldn’t stop at condemnation.
Twenty-five years spent as an FBI agent instilled in me an appreciation for American justice. One of its hallmarks is collegiality: Prosecutors and defense attorneys respect each other even as they vigorously make their cases in an adversarial system.
Collegiality also calls on defense attorneys to respect law enforcers, whose often thankless job is to find and arrest lawbreakers and ensure they appear in court at the appointed time.
What an unadulterated load of self-serving crap. No, there’s no “collegiality” between defense lawyers and cops. We’re not “colleagues.” Cops aren’t owed some duty of respect any more than anyone else. No less than anyone else, but no more, just as cops owe a duty of respect to the people they “protect and serve,” and let’s be real about how that’s turned out.
Had Gagliano’s point been limited to demanding an apology for the graceless joke about a dead cop, it might have been fair. It might well have been even more fair had Gagliano also noted that apologies were due for a great many things done by cops, said by cops, but let’s not have unrealistic expectations.
Instead, Gagliano goes lower. After using the time-honored tool of dredging up whatever historical hurts he can muster to bolster his weak case, he gets to his point.
Our heroes can take the criticism. But what they can’t abide are defenders who are beneficiaries of lavish New York City indigent-defense-services spending — some $308 million budgeted for 2020 — and who act as anti-cop activists on the side.
“Lavish” is the most ludicrous choice of words possible, And if Gagliano hasn’t already destroyed what little cred he had, he then drops his “bombshell” on the “cop-hating” public defenders.
Robust advocacy on behalf of clients is appropriate. But slandering and maligning the NYPD, a departmental model of restraint, should subject any taxpayer-funded organization and its agenda to additional scrutiny and oversight. It may even be necessary to withhold some precious public funding until defenders set their house in order.
Public defenders are funded, barely, to represent the indigent, not to be pals with the cops, some of whom beat, kill, lie about and harm their clients. Calling them heroes doesn’t make them heroes. Call them a “model of restraint” doesn’t bring Eric Garner back to life. But most of all, lying about their “lavish” funding doesn’t mean calling for the withholding of “precious public funding” until they stop hurting cops’ feelings isn’t one of the most nonsensical reactions possible.
As bad and graceless as the “headline” joke was, Gagliano’s absurd effort to use it to silence the efforts of public defenders, and the defense bar in general, from condemning police violence and abuse, from seeking legal reform, but hating cops when they deserve to be hated, is worse.
P.O. Mulkeen’s death was a tragedy, and should not have been the fodder for a joke. Gagliano’s reflex, however, takes this poor choice to a new depth of idiocy, of absurdity, of dishonesty. As inappropriate as the joke was, Gagliano showed that the cops can always go lower.