Even as police officers continued to be the targets of water attacks by miscreants—most of them with prior criminal records—Mayor de Blasio wound up on the receiving end of some of the fallout, and got it from both sides.

Some of his critics, including police-union officials and conservative members of the City Council, blamed him for what they claimed was “divisive” rhetoric that whipped up sentiment against the cops. Others, including three men who are leading candidates to succeed him when his term expires—City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams—have faulted him for failing to fire Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo for his actions that contributed to the death of Eric Garner five years ago.

Our sense is that the prime motive for the water attacks is that those inclined to break the law will do so when an opportunity presents itself, and the criminal backgrounds of those who have been arrested—and, unfortunately, swiftly released—should be regarded as the best explanation for their deplorable actions until they issue political manifestoes stating otherwise.

So why is Mr. de Blasio such an inviting target? Perhaps because he seems clinically unable to express strong feelings on either of the issues in this controversy.

When the U.S. Justice Department announced July 16 that it would not bring civil-rights charges against Officer Pantaleo, he called it “unacceptable” that it had taken so long after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the cop in December 2014. Asked about the water attacks on police during his July 22 appearance on “Inside City Hall,” he called them “completely unacceptable.”

He seemed to be suggesting a title for a future autobiography: “Diary of a Wimpy Mayor.”

It took the NYPD’s top uniformed officer, Chief of Department Terence Monahan, to find the right word to characterize the attacks on his troops: “reprehensible.” He also simultaneously told cops they didn’t have to take the water barrages while criticizing two young officers who hadn’t reported their dousing in Brooklyn’s Brownsville section, saying, “Any cop who thinks that’s alright, that they can walk away from something like that, maybe should reconsider whether or not this is the profession for them.”

His remarks brought some needed clarity to the situation. Then the Legal Aid Society, adhering a bit too closely to its institutional role, muddied the water, if you will, by complaining that “young people are getting arrested for splashing water on 100-degree days” while cops who did much worse “barely get a slap on the wrist.”

This assessment, given the context, was no more useful to the discussion than Mr. de Blasio’s remarks after the Staten Island grand jury refused to indict Officer Pantaleo about how he had given his then-teenage son Dante “the talk” about being careful when encountering police officers. It conflates water-related horseplay in which the young people involved are generally willing participants with the blatant disrespect for the police that dumping buckets of water on them—and in one case throwing an empty bucket that struck a Harlem cop in the head—constituted. In the Brownsville case, the officers who were soaked were responding to complaints that the soakers had drenched older people who were not part of the revelry.

This isn’t about high-spirited youths going slightly overboard on a hot day—and those arrested have generally been in their 20s, which means they are old enough to know better. Treating cops as if they are just a few more marks who can be taken advantage of by bullies erodes respect for the badge unless the perpetrators are arrested and dealt with as severely as prosecutors and judges will allow.

And while the Sergeants Benevolent Association has been over the top in some of its statements on this issue, including its deriding of Police Commissioner James O’Neill, it was on the mark in warning officers that they should treat the contagious dousing as something more than summer fun gone wild, stating that the next liquid tossed might not be H2O: “These buckets can contain ACID, BLEACH or other CHEMICALS.”

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