The city’s Health Commissioner, Oxiris Barbot, purportedly dismissed the NYPD’s need for protective equipment just as the pandemic was beginning to overrun the city in late March, telling Chief of Department Terence Monahan “I don’t give two rats’ asses about your cops.”
The exchange, first reported by the New York Post, drew swift calls from police unions and others that Ms. Barbot be fired.
“Dr. Barbot should be forced to look in the eye of every police family who lost a hero to this virus. Look them in the eye and tell them they aren’t worth a rat’s ass,” the Police Benevolent Association’s president, Patrick J. Lynch, said in a statement shortly after the newspaper reported the story May 13. “She should have been fired the moment she uttered those words. She must resign or be fired immediately now.”
He called her alleged utterance “despicable and unforgivable.”
In a Twitter post, the Sergeants Benevolent Association, headed by Ed Mullins, an unrelenting critic of Mayor de Blasio, was more plain-spoken: “Truth is this bitch has blood on her hands but why should anyone be surprised the NYPD has suffered under DeBlasio since he became Mayor.”
Citing unnamed sources, the Post reported that during a late March phone conversation, Chief Monahan asked Ms. Barbot that the Health Department provide 500,000 masks for officers. She replied that DOH could only provide 50,000 and then further dismissed the NYPD with her alleged remark.
The NYPD was devastated by the pandemic, its personnel toll rising to a high on April 9, when nearly 20 percent of officers were out sick. As of May 13, nearly 5,500 of the department’s roughly 36,000 officers had tested positive for the virus. Six officers―five Detectives and one Police Officer―and 36 other members of the department died after contracting the virus.
“I am not surprised by such vile words coming from an appointee of Mayor de Blasio, whose disdain for law enforcement is legendary,” Mr. Mullins said. “But Dr. Barbot’s comments make it clear she has no personal or professional regard for the police. The primary concerns of a medical professional in such an important position should be the safety of all people, and her attitude places police officers in great jeopardy and makes her unfit for the job.”
In a subsequent tweet, the SBA also rebuked the NYPD and Chief Monahan for not immediately disclosing Dr. Barbot’s remark. “Why did it take 2 months for it to be made public,” the tweet read.
Dr. Barbot, a pediatrician and native New Yorker, was named acting Health Commissioner in September 2018, succeeding Dr. Mary Bassett, under whom she had been First Deputy Commissioner. The Mayor made her appointment permanent that December.
She began with what was then the city’s Department of Health and Mental Services in 2003, serving as Medical Director for the city’s public schools. She was Baltimore’s Health Commissioner from 2010 to 2014.
Although Sergeant Mullins suggested that Dr. Barbot and the Mayor have similar policy outlooks, they have not seen eye to eye during the pandemic, advocating disparate responses at the outset of the crisis.
Clash on Broad Testing
While Mr. de Blasio wanted widespread testing for the city’s population as early as mid-March, Health Department officials were said to consider that approach a squandering of resources, according to The New York Times. Dr. Barbot’s public stance was that widespread testing of some populations would be superfluous given that the virus was spreading so rapidly citywide.
By early April, as the number of police officers testing positive for the virus was rising significantly, that reasoning reached to the department itself, with Commissioner Dermot Shea calling it “unrealistic” to expect that all officers be tested.
And on May 8, the Mayor announced that the city’s public-hospital system, NYC Health + Hospitals, would take the lead on testing and tracing of city residents, effectively sidelining Dr. Barbot’s 6,000-member Health Department from that initiative.
Although she had been a regular presence at the Mayor’s daily coronavirus briefings, Ms. Barbot has been noticeably absent of late.
The Health Department did not respond to an inquiry.
Mayor Not Aware
The Detectives’ Endowment Association called Ms. Barbot’s purported comments “shameful.” That union’s president, Paul DiGiacomo, called for her immediate firing “not only her despicable remarks, but for endangering our men and women in blue who are tirelessly protecting New Yorkers during this pandemic.”
He said that her reluctance to distribute the masks further contributed to the virus’s spread.
“A so-called city leader, Dr. Barbot showed her true colors as a cop-hater. Brave NYPD Detectives died as the DEA searched for protective equipment to purchase for our members while we waited for the city to distribute masks,” he said in a statement. “She has brought great shame to New York City government and every medical professional who is courageously fighting the Coronavirus pandemic alongside our cops.”
Mr. de Blasio said he was not aware of Dr. Barbot’s remark until May 13. He said he would be speaking with both Chief Monahan and the Health Commissioner to determine the exact nature of their exchange.
'I'd Have Dealt With It'
“I assure you I would have dealt with it at the time had I heard it in my presence,” the Mayor said during his May 14 briefing.
He said that “no public servant should ever in any way say anything disrespectful about the men and women of the NYPD. They protect us, we need to protect them. So, to me, it would be inappropriate for anyone, particularly in a leadership role, to suggest any lack of interest in protecting the men and women of the NYPD.”
But the Mayor also called the SBA’s tweeted comments, which he attributed to Mr. Mullins, “absolutely unacceptable.”
“That language is a misogynist and unacceptable,” Mr. de Blasio said. “And I've learned long ago that so much of what comes out of the SBA is divisive and meant to set the city back.”
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