The inability of the parties involved in the debate over policing in New York triggered by the strong reaction to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop to hear each other was emblemized by demonstrators' complaints that the NYPD interfered with their right to protest peacefully once nightly curfews took effect.
It was as if they didn't realize that the sometimes-strident responses by cops in those situations weren't arbitrary. The curfews, in case anyone forgot, were imposed after the department began being overwhelmed May 31 by monitoring those protests at the same time bands of looters were using the diversion to pillage businesses from the heart of Manhattan's shopping areas to less-chic parts of Brooklyn and The Bronx.
The elected officials supporting the protesters—sometimes by calling fouls against the police—have swallowed their whistles when it comes to the looters. If they were trying to be part of a constructive dialogue, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and his more-outspoken Democratic colleagues, as well as Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, would be excoriating the looters for exploiting the situation and roughing up cops—one ran over a Sergeant in The Bronx with what became his getaway car—who attempted to apprehend them.
Anyone hesitating to call out these bums because so many of them are people of color is missing the message of the rallies around the nation. Mr. Floyd was a black man killed by a sadistic white cop—an all-too-familiar tableau—but the outrage was based on injustice more than skin color. What's wrong is wrong, no matter the race of the aggressor, and leaders with principles should state clearly that the looting has nothing to do with the changes they are trying to make and that the people doing it deserve to be locked up.
Part of the problem may be that some officials were wincing when they heard the complaints of street cops and NYPD officials that looters who were apprehended were back on the streets before officers who arrested them completed their paperwork. Are there any judges with the gumption to decide that freeing looters is unpalatable and remand them rather than shrugging about the law that ended bail as we knew it?
On the other side of the fence, decisions in Minnesota to quickly fire the four cops at the scene of Mr. Floyd's death, and charge the man who put his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes, Derek Chauvin, with second-degree murder, while arresting the others for aiding and abetting him are a loud message to cops here, their unions, and the NYPD.
Two of the cops were new to patrol. Mr. Chauvin was their training officer, a real-life incarnation of the charismatic-but-crazed cop played by Denzell Washington in "Training Day." They may get sympathy at trial by saying they were afraid of career consequences if they pulled Mr. Chauvin off Mr. Floyd. But that won't get their jobs back, and the precedent puts the penalty for doing nothing when a cop is endangering someone's life—particularly someone who's handcuffed—squarely on the table.
The outcry has given new life to the bid to repeal Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Law—which the de Blasio administration decided four years ago prevented it from making public disciplinary actions taken against officers. It has also given momentum to a measure in the City Council that would criminalize the use by police of choke-holds.
The NYPD for more than a quarter-century has banned choke-holds, but it has rarely penalized cops who used them in situations where it was not their only viable option. If former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had taken stronger action in eight cases where the Civilian Complaint Review Board substantiated complaints that cops used them than the one instance in a five-year period where he docked an officer a few vacation days, would it have deterred Daniel Pantaleo from using one against Eric Garner six years ago? We don't know, but the near-absence of punishment for so serious an offense convinced the Council it can't trust the department to enforce its own ban.
Mayor de Blasio has said he will go along with such a bill only if cops who use the choke-hold in life-and-death situations are not penalized. It should go without saying that such a clause is essential.
The Police Benevolent Association has begun gearing up for a costly campaign to head off repeal of 50-a, saying the change would jeopardize the safety of its members despite the expectation that their personal information would not become public.
Lieutenants Benevolent Association President Lou Turco told this newspaper's Richard Khavkine that the police unions wanted the same consideration protesters sought from the city and the NYPD. "We should be part of the conversation and figure out what both sides can live with," he said.
And significant revisions of the bail law should also be on the table.