Our guess is that some top city officials had mixed feelings about the bad behavior of the protesters who were camped out in City Hall Park over the final days of the budget process.
On the one hand, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and City Comptroller Scott Stringer had to be a bit embarrassed that those who swept them up in the dubious exercise of finding a billion dollars or more in Police Department cuts resorted to juvenile behavior like trying to provoke cops who were there to maintain order, and circulating the phone numbers of Council Members so they could be badgered at all hours for not defunding the department completely.
Harassment by phone, it should be noted, last got such prominence during the 2016 presidential campaign, when Lindsay Graham was targeted by none other than Donald Trump to be abused by anonymous callers.
On the other hand, the protesters who gave in to frustration when reality intruded on their crusade offered solace to those officials by making their own pandering seem mild in comparison.
Mr. Johnson acted aggrieved about moving the budget forward without canceling two additional police classes set for the new fiscal year. Mr. Williams, who at least seems to believe his own rhetoric, argued that it wasn't enough to cancel a class of 1,163 rookie officers who were due to begin training this month, saying the "NYPD shouldn't be golden" while other agencies endured year-long hiring freezes. And Mr. Stringer, who has styled himself as the voice of reason among the leading contenders for Mayor, called the NYPD cut "a paper-thin excuse for reform."
And it was, for a simple reason. Even many Council Members who have been ardent critics of the NYPD realized that they would be cutting off their constituents' noses (and likely other appendages) to spite the department's face if they inflicted major damage at a time when homicides are up 25 percent over the same period last year and shootings have risen 50 percent.
We don't normally turn to Mayor de Blasio for common-sense assessments of the value the police force has to New Yorkers, but he seemed like a lonely voice in municipal officialdom hours after the budget was approved. He provided a reality check on his colleagues and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose call for defunding seemed to confirm that her primary residence is on the Internet.
Talking to New Yorkers who live in places where concern about crime is the most well-founded, what he heard from them, the Mayor said, was "they believe in the NYPD. They want the NYPD to improve in some ways, but Lord knows they want to know [that] when they call for a police officer to help them, that that officer will be there."
It doesn't mean Mr. de Blasio didn't stoop to pandering as well to get enough votes to pass the budget. Look at his public statements (check our adjoining For the Record column) and it's clear he's not convinced that it's a good idea to transfer School Safety Agents from the jurisdiction of the Police Department to that of the Department of Education. But then again, why was Mr. Stringer going along with this change, given that he's been around long enough to know the history of the operation and realize why putting the program in the NYPD's hands 22 years ago was absolutely the right move?
(Actually, the only one of the more-prominent candidates to succeed Mr. de Blasio in 2022 who didn't play too much to the protesters rather than listening to the larger populace was Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. He also proposed cuts in the NYPD but—perhaps due to his past as a Police Captain—included some feasible ideas, although they that didn't get much consideration during the budget talks.)
For all the complaints about police brutality or discourtesy here, the number of egregious police killings of unarmed citizens is small. If you count only the ones where the equities swing heavily against individual cops and the NYPD, they are more like an every-few-years occurrence than a persistent pattern.
There have been enough of them that the killing of George Floyd by a crazed Minneapolis cop generated a visceral reaction here that moved serious people to turn out to protest, in addition to the collection of anarchists and opportunists who blended in with young people whose energy often outweighed their perspective.
But those who believe that the city would be better off if the police force was undernourished financially and scorned by the public are either unaware of, or oblivious to, the damage done here when cops were shorthanded or—very occasionally—opted not to get involved when they were off duty and trouble broke out.
We'll see whether they can hold the line as officers lost to attrition are not replaced. But anyone celebrating the cancellation of the July police class—which, incidentally, figured to have a majority of its ranks filled by people of color—isn't thinking all that clearly.
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