After 18-year-old Nikki Stone was grabbed off the street and arrested by NYPD Warrant Squad officers July 28 for having used orange paint to disable a police camera near City Hall several weeks earlier, Mayor de Basio the following morning focused on the abrupt way in which it was done rather than whether the cops did what they are paid to do.
He started out by telling reporters in his daily briefing, "Members of the Warrant Squad going and arresting [people with outstanding warrants] is actually their job." But he said that the manner in which it was handled—pulling Ms. Stone from a group of friends on a Manhattan street and placing her in an unmarked van—was too reminiscent of what Federal agents in Portland had been doing to protesters in recent weeks.
"I don't think it was a good decision" for that reason, he continued. "Arresting someone for damaging public property was a good decision. The time and place was not."
By that "wrong time, wrong place" logic, signing into law a bill that made it more difficult for cops to subdue suspects at a time when shootings citywide were up more than 50 percent and murders were up about 25 percent compared to a year ago would qualify as a bad decision.
Particularly when, as the Mayor noted July 15 when he signed into law the bill that besides making police use of chokeholds a criminal offense also barred cops from compressing the diaphragm of someone with whom they were struggling while making an arrest, his top police commanders were insisting it would have a chilling effect on cops and Mr. de Blasio said he, too, harbored doubts about the wisdom of the change.
Government by Perception
Hypocrisy is not his worst crime when it comes to his treatment of the Police Department. It's that his 180-degree shift on the chokehold bill—his opposition last year led the City Council to shelve it without a vote—seems to be based entirely on the wave of anti-police sentiment that crested after a man in Minneapolis died beneath the knee of a sadistic cop, leading to weeks of protest here as well as other large cities that has washed over whether some of the changes enacted in the name of reform were likely to do more harm than good.
And the Mayor is having his integrity questioned not only by the police unions whose members have had their jobs made harder by that change, but by the Councilman who was the driving force behind it.
For five years starting in 2015, Queens Councilman Rory Lancman had pushed a bill to criminalize use of a chokehold by cops—something that was banned by the NYPD 27 years ago but was never taken seriously by the two Commissioners who ran the department for roughly 17 of those years: Ray Kelly and Bill Bratton. The impetus for his push had been the 2014 death of Eric Garner during a confrontation with Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who used a chokehold to lift Mr. Garner off his feet and then take him to the ground.
A Medical Examiner's report deemed that department-banned hold to be a contributing factor in Mr. Garner's death, along with several health issues the 350-pound man had suffered from. Largely overlooked was that she also cited chest compression by another officer who lay across Mr. Garner once he was on the ground as partly responsible.
It was not until George Floyd's death in Minneapolis after Police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes May 25, that Councilman Lancman added diaphragm compression into his bill.
Asked during a July 28 phone interview why until then he merely sought what he called a "pure chokehold bill," he replied, "It was hard enough getting the chokehold version through."
Convinced that public opinion shifted strongly enough due to the Floyd killing to expand the prohibitions he was seeking, Mr. Lancman upped the ante. Asked why, once top NYPD officials indicated they could live with a city law against chokeholds, he had not compromised and reverted to his original bill, he replied, "It's not my job to make everybody reasonably happy."
Certain Mayor Wouldn't Veto
Given that Mr. de Blasio's initial position that he would veto a bill dealing solely with chokeholds had not immediately changed following Mr. Floyd's death, it might have seemed that the Councilman was pushing his luck by insisting on diaphragm compression being part of the measure. But Mr. Lancman contended there were two reasons he was confident that he wouldn't use that as justification for a veto.
"Number 1, the Mayor is smart enough to know that cops' claim that it was going to be harder to bring suspects under control is simply untrue," he said. "Number 2, the Mayor is capable of putting his finger up in the wind like any other politician."
Earlier that afternoon, Detectives' Endowment Association President Paul DiGiacomo made clear he wouldn't contest the claim that political expediency had a big role in Mr. de Blasio's decision but said the problems the new law was causing his members were apparent from the time it took effect 13 days earlier.
"Whether it's a homicide or a drug sale, the people you're trying to arrest have been emboldened by what the Council did" and the Mayor's signing it into law, he said. And while the change had made them more willing to resist arrest, "It's tying the hands of the police."
He noted, "The officer involved in any kind of confrontation can be charged with a misdemeanor and face a year in prison or be fined $2,500" if convicted of diaphragm compression, even if it occurred inadvertently during a struggle.
"Anytime you're involved in any kind of confrontation, you've gotta be thinking about it," the DEA president said. "There are a lot of guns out on the street right now, and every situation seems to be turning into a confrontation."
Fingers Cuomo, Too
He emphasized he wasn't blaming the Mayor and Council alone, asserting that Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature created part of the problem with the bail-reform law that took effect Jan. 1, even though it was modified three months later in response to complaints by law-enforcement officials.
Both legislative bodies, as well as the Governor and Mayor, Mr. DiGiacomo continued, "have a moral obligation to keep the people of this city safe. They've failed in that obligation."
Asked why he thought the Council enacted the bill despite the vociferous objections by top NYPD officials as well as police-union leaders that the diaphragm aspect would make it difficult for cops to do their jobs without greater risk to either their safety or their careers, he replied, "I think they're just anti-police."
Alluding to the sharp rises in both shootings and homicides, Mr. DiGiacomo said of Mr. Lancman and Council Speaker Corey Johnson, "None of these crimes are taking place in their districts. It's all in other parts of the city, and that's the disgraceful part."
Mr. Lancman responded that his district was "minority/majority" and that his constituents "want police brutality and police misconduct" to be punished. He said that for too long top NYPD officials and the unions "failed to agree to any middle ground. Only when we added the diaphragm-compression component did they say they could live with the chokehold portion."
But one veteran lawyer, speaking on condition that he not be identified, said of the new law, "The city's gonna pay the price and it's gonna be felt most acutely in the minority neighborhoods, because that's where most of the crime is."
What Flipped de Blasio?
It was notable that, in contrast to the budget negotiations in which he agreed to a $1-billion cut in the allocation to the NYPD but massaged the changes to limit the damage to its operations, Mr. de Blasio went along with the Council rather than seeking a compromise despite his own professed doubts about the impact of the diaphragm-compression ban. It was as if, rather than the usual give-and-take on legislation with the Council, he saw the objective as quieting the protesters and others on the left who had begun questioning his progressive credentials.
Asked whether the NYPD budget cut combined with a law banning chokeholds shouldn't have sufficed, political consultant George Arzt said that because there was already an NYPD ban on the maneuver, that part of the law would not have represented "a big victory. I think as the storm on the streets began to heighten, he just felt he had to do more, so he caved to the Council."
By doing so, he added, "You're completely demoralizing your Police Department."
That view was echoed by Mr. DiGiacomo, who said that while his members hadn't slackened their efforts, "They're working, but they don't feel the city's behind them 100 percent. In my 38 years [with the NYPD], this has to be the worst because of the lack of support from the city."
Asked whether Detectives might hesitate in confronting someone out of concern that it could lead to their being the ones facing criminal charges, he said, "There are situations where it's been difficult to effect an arrest."
Policing is not the only area where the Mayor's policies and basic competence have been called into question recently. After having solid relations with the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators for much of his 6 1/2 years in office—not least because he resolved long-time contract logjams he inherited from Mayor Bloomberg that gave their members overdue raises and large amounts of back pay, the heads of both unions have recently questioned the Mayor's ability to have schools ready for a safe opening in October.
Shuns 'Shakers' Advice
After it was reported that Mr. de Blasio hadn't been reaching out to the city's business establishment either for its help in prying loose aid from Republicans in the U.S. Senate or the White House or for ideas on how to cushion the blow to limit damage to the workforce if that funding doesn't materialize, WNYC's Brian Lehrer asked him about it during the Mayor's July 24 weekly appearance.
He replied by invoking Karl Marx, saying, "There's a famous quote that 'the state is the executive committee of the bourgeoisie,' and I use it openly to say 'No.' I read that when I was a young person and I said, that's not the way it's supposed to be."
Mr. de Blasio then added, "Mayors should not be too cozy with the business community."
Mr. Arzt, who as City Hall bureau chief for The Post covered the 1975 fiscal crisis in which the business community and public-employee unions played key roles in setting the city back on the road to financial stability, said of his remarks, "It doesn't make sense at all. I think he is a person who very much needs the business community. And they need him too—they need clear direction on where he's going."
As to his quoting Marx expressing disdain for the well-to-do, Mr. Arzt said, "No, this is not a city of the working person; this is a city of everybody: the poor, the middle class, and the elites. His rhetoric is very divisive, and he doesn't seem to realize it."
He continued, "If you need the Federal Government for a stimulus package, why do you paint this Black Lives Matter mural outside Trump Tower—unless you don't want anything from the stimulus?."
A Nose-Thumbing Bloodied
Driving down 5th Ave. on both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, red paint could be glimpsed splashed over part of the mural, with splotches of white paint also defacing the art the Mayor helped create. It wasn't clear whether because it lay across the part of the mural past the President's corporate offices, in front of the Gucci building, the early urgency he had brought to cleaning up the vandalism had waned.
It was tempting to see it as a statement of the Mayor's declining power, whether to act productively or lash out effectively. He had long ago alienated police unions, as well as labor leaders like Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd, who was harshly critical of the Mayor's impact on agencies where his members worked such as the Housing Authority long before he agreed to transfer School Safety Agents from the control of the NYPD to the Department of Education—one of the more-dubious elements of the budget cut.
With top NYPD leaders—hand-picked for their jobs by Mr. de Blasio—increasingly defiant and the unions representing Teachers and Principals openly critical of his stewardship lately, it seemed the Mayor was running out of allies faster than someone should want in a time of trouble.
His stand on the change that will make it harder for street cops to do their jobs just when the city needs them more than at any time during his term made it seem like the Mayor had regressed back to his old comfort zone as an activist tilting at the establishment, as if oblivious to the fact that he was at the top of the municipal pyramid.
That may explain Mr. DiGiacomo's response when asked why, after more than six years in office, Mr. de Blasio was living up to fears the unions had that he would align himself against cops for political advantage.
"He has more concern for the demonstrators than for the police," the DEA leader said. "He's got nothing to lose, other than his reputation and his legacy."
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