Two police officers were assaulted on the Brooklyn Bridge trying to arrest a man who they suspected was going to throw a garbage can into the middle of the bridge. Watching a video of the incident, it appears the assault consists of other protesters pulling on the cops’ arms, ostensibly to keep them from arresting the protester with the garbage can.
Definitely an assault and not OK.
Here’s NYPD Commissioner William Bratton on the incident:
“We do not take attacks on our police officers lightly. Never have; never will.”
And Mayor Bill de Blasio:
“Not only will it not be tolerated by me, it will not be tolerated by the NYPD.”
All well and good.
But about three years ago during the Occupy Wall Street protests, before de Blasio was mayor and Bratton was commissioner, there were dozens and dozens of incidents where cops abused their power and used an excessive amount of force in subduing and arresting protesters. I saw it myself and there is tons of evidence of it on YouTube.
As previously mentioned on this website, several top universities conducted a joint-study in 2012 that found, “the NYPD abused Occupy Wall Street protesters and violated their rights on numerous occasions during the 2011 protests that radiated out from Zuccotti Park.”
The police never conducted an investigation into their handling of the Occupy movement, at least not one they released publicly. Even in the most egregious and well-documented cases, such as when an NYPD inspector pepper-sprayed a group of kettled women, there were no charges filed against police abusing protesters.
That case is just one example out of many that illustrate a fact people everywhere are only just coming to realize: By and large, the police in this country are not held accountable when breaking the law in the line of duty.
So what does this have to do with the two cops that were just assaulted? After all, Bratton and de Blasio weren’t part of the administration in 2011.
Here’s the thing. An administration cannot take very seriously assaults on police officers without taking very seriously assaults by police officers on citizens engaging in protest, or citizens in general (I’m not saying police are abusing people in this latest round of demonstrations. By many accounts they’re handling it much better than they did Occupy).
Regardless of the three intervening years and a change in leadership, the NYPD is still the NYPD, and there has never been a reckoning for cops who broke the law during Occupy. It was just swept aside. And now that the police department is reconsidering their hands-off approach to those demonstrating against the Eric Garner decision, I’m not convinced we won’t see a return to police abusing their power in detaining and arresting protesters.
This general lack of accountability is eroding law enforcement’s legitimacy here in New York and across the country.
The Garner decision told people in New York that it was OK for an officer to commit a homicide in the line of duty. Even the prosecutors that presented evidence to the grand jury in the Garner case were “stunned and disappointed” that the officer involved wasn’t indicted.
The Garner decision joined the Michael Brown case in reverberating nationally and telling people across the country that this is our reality: police officers are above the law. Since then, other stories about police abuse have come out of the woodwork, such as the Washington Post’s expose on the little-known police practice of civil forfeiture.
So given recent national and local events, is it any wonder that we’re seeing police in this latest round of protests in New York actually get attacked? Two days before the Brooklyn Bridge assault on police officers, two other officers were punched in the face at another protest against the Garner decision.
I didn’t see that at Occupy, where the police were much rougher on protesters. I didn’t read about cases where police were actually singled out and attacked during an Occupy march. But it’s apparently happening now.
And I’m not justifying it. Nobody should be punching police officers for doing their jobs. I’m just saying I’m not surprised it’s occurring at this moment in time.
I think we’re seeing people question law enforcement’s validity. Why is it OK for police to beat or kill people, and in the instances where it’s found they broke the law or department regulations, or exercised poor judgement and committed a homicide, and get away with it?
Why are there no discussions from people in power around the notion that sometimes the police are the ones that are the problem? Is it ever OK to defend yourself against the police? What happens when you do? Who makes that decision? Why aren’t we talking about this?
Here comes my law enforcement caveat. They do have a tough job and need a measure of special consideration for actions that occur in the line of duty. But they also need to be held accountable when the evidence shows that in carrying out those duties, they broke the law. There cannot be a double standard.
Police officers that slammed people into the ground for no reason during Occupy, bloodied protesters who were not resisting, threw people over barriers, illegally detained photographers and journalists for doing their jobs, illegally confiscated cameras and used pepper spray in situations that did not call for it, need to be held accountable. They assaulted people and broke the law, and their profession does not excuse their behavior.
I know this is a long piece, but permit me a little anecdote. On Monday, whoever controls the NYPD Midtown South Twitter account posted, as part of “Motivational Monday,” Jack Nicholson’s monologue from A Few Good Men where his character essentially defends torture, murder and extrajudicial justice.
The tweet was communicating to officers in New York that you may be criticized for doing your job, but stay the course because the ends justify the means, we do the job nobody else wants to do, we’re always right by virtue of what we face every day, and society needs us to keep the animals at bay even if they don’t understand the dangers that are lurking behind every corner.
It’s Grade A macho bullshit, of course. Society needs police that are better at deescalating a situation than they are at pulling a trigger or taking someone to ground. Instead of buying personnel carriers from the Pentagon how about buying more conflict resolution training for officers? How about buying more non-lethal weapons like Tasers, which could have prevented Michael Brown’s death, and requiring officers to wear them?
Officer Darren Wilson testified that the reason he didn’t have a stun gun is because the department only had a limited amount and they were uncomfortable to wear. But they sure as hell had automatic weapons, full-body Kevlar suits and armored vehicles they just couldn’t wait to pull out of storage for when Russia invades middle America…or for when people start protesting because a white cop killed an unarmed black teenager.
And people aren’t in the streets because they hate cops. Council members aren’t holding die-ins at City Hall because they’re a bunch of malcontent hippies who want to beat every sword they see into a plowshare. The overwhelming majority of people who protest are reasonable citizens that unite in response to a real grievance.
You didn’t see people marching after the Dec. 9 incident where an NYPD officer shot and killed a black man who stabbed someone in a Brooklyn synagogue and refused to relinquish his weapon. Police officers sometimes have to make hard decisions in the blink of an eye, and that cop will probably wake up to memories of that day for the rest of his life.
As has been pointed out numerous times, these protests that are occurring in city’s across the country aren’t about a few bad apples who tarnish the good name of law enforcement. They’re a reaction to the culture of impunity and self-justifying violence that many feel is pervasive in the national law enforcement community.
So when I see things like the mayor and police commissioner taking a zero-tolerance stance against attacks on officers, it makes me angry because the very citizens that police are sworn to protect are not regarded in the same manner. This despite the fact that everyday citizens are much more vulnerable than police are, whether on the streets, in a protest, or in court.