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A huge number of entitled, mostly white cops in New York City, who have apparently been engaging in a two-week job action to protest their boss’s (that’s Mayor Bill deBlasio’s) support for protesters against the police killing of Eric Garner, a black man busted for selling “loosie” cigarettes on the street on Staten Island, may be unintentionally offering the public a demonstration of their own irrelevance.
For two weeks now, the largest police force in the nation has essentially stopped making arrests. According to a lead story in the New York Timestoday, ticket issuance by police in this city of 8.4 million is down by 90 percent. The paper reports that:
Most precincts’ weekly tallies for criminal infractions — typically about 4,000 a week citywide — were close to zero.
And yet, New York continues to function normally, with people going about their business, secure on sidewalk, street, public transit and in their homes.
Could it be that the city has been wasting much of the nearly $5 billion it spends annually on its over 34,000 uniformed cops (15% of the city’s budget)? Could it be that having all those cops cruising around neighborhoods harassing people — mostly, statistics show, people of color and poor people — by stopping them and frisking them, by busting them for “crimes” like public urination, smoking a joint, drinking a beer outside, selliing trinkets or “lossie” cigs, or just “looking suspicious” — has been doing nothing to reduce major crimes and violence after all?
If this job action keeps up, and the city doesn’t descend into a spasm of crime and mayhem, maybe Mayor deBlasio should live up to his early billing as a former radical activist and start sacking the protesting cops. He could start by retasking the NYPD intelligence staff (which has been wasting its time playing CIA and infiltrating mosques and Islamic centers). He should have them instead look over the photos of the officers, nearly all of them white, who publicly dissed him by turning their backs on his eulogies for the two cops who were murdered by a nut-job from Baltimore who decided to kill New York cops to avenge Garner’s and Ferguson teen Michael Brown’s slayings by police, and summarily fire them.
He could instruct his police commissioner, William J. Bratton, to have his precinct captains submit him a list of all the officers under their jurisdiction who are refusing to do their jobs or who had disobeyed his order not to turn their backs, while in uniform, on Mayor deBlasio, and he should fire them too.
That would cut the bloated police force in the city down to size, and, because almost all of those dropped from the payroll would be white, it would go a long way towards making the NYPD much more reflective, racially, of the city they are policing.
If New York still continued, at that point, to function normally, without any evident surge in lawlessness, the Mayor would find himself suddenly with the funds he needs to do those progressive things that so far he has been blocked from doing by lack of funds and by obstruction from the governor, fellow Democrat Andrew Cuomo — things like universal preschool, rent subsidies for the poor, etc.
Even cutting the police payroll by $500 million a year would be a huge bonanza for the Mayor and the people of New York.
And other cities around the country would be watching. Heavily lobbied by fear-mongering police unions, they’ve all been blowing wads of taxpayer cash for years on ramping up their police forces. If the whiners on the NYPD who are upset that Mayor deBlasio was critical of the Staten Island borough DA’s failure to prosecute Garner’s killer, white officer Daniel Pantaleo, by engaging in a “no-arrests” job action, prove that they aren’t really needed after all, it’s inevitable that other financially strapped cities will try the same thing.
What the NYPD will be left with after such a mass firing would be a core of much more serious and dedicated cops, a more integrated and progressive and professionally committed department, and should evidence arise later of the need for more police, it would be an opportunity to select the best candidates for the job from other departments around the country, or from the national pool of newly unemployed cops.
Of course deBlasio should fire the protesting cops in his city for another reason too. Police love to see themselves as domestic soldiers, and to adopt military imagery, awarding ranks like sergeant, lieutenant and captain, wearing American flag lapel pins, medals and braids, and dressing up in military gear for SWAT raids and patrols, armed with the latest semi-automatic arms. But when they publicly diss their boss — both the Mayor and the police chief who told them not to protest his eulogies — they do something that uniformed military personnel would and could never do without facing a court martial. It is totally unacceptable for public employees whom the public has entrusted with a license to kill to disrespect and to refuse the orders of their supervisors and their ultimate boss — the mayor.
Barack Obama, on assuming office, dithered in following through on one of his campaign promises to immediately end the Pentagon’s ambiguous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military by simply making it legal for gays and lesbians to serve openly. His fear of confronting the bigots in uniform, which caused him to delay taking the action until backed by a court order, sent the clear message that he was a pushover, and he never recovered from that. Had Obama simply issued his order as commander in chief, and then immediately fired any general or admiral who balked or protested, his presidency would likely have taken an entirely different course.
DeBlasio, still early in his first term as mayor of New York, is facing the same kind of crisis. If he bows to the protests of police rank and file officers angered at his principled stand in the Garner case, he will find it hard for anyone to take his pronouncements and policy proposals seriously going forward.
Meanwhile, while the mayor decides whether to be a decisive leader or a weak-kneed ditherer, we can enjoy the spectacle of police in New York demonstrating for all to see, how over-rated their “services” have been in the nation’s biggest city.
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).