I was listening to WNYC radio in New York (God bless smart phones) when Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke about the grand jury’s decision not to indict the white cop who helped kill Eric Garner. I heard the whole thing. I was amazed at how thoughtful de Blasio was about it all, how careful he navigated the waters of controversy. He said,
It’s a very emotional day for our city. It’s a very painful day for so many New Yorkers. That is the core reality. So many people in this city are feeling pain right now. And we’re grieving, again, over the loss of Eric Garner, who was a father, a husband, a son, a good man – a man who should be with us, and isn’t. That pain, that simple fact, is felt again so sharply today.
He also talked about how the tragedy is not just a personal one for Garner’s family,
but it’s become something personal to so many of us. It’s put in stark perspective the relationship between police and community.
He went on to explain his personal feelings, about how his wife Chirlane (who is black) and he have had to teach their son Dante to “take special care” during any interactions with police, and it was that explanation that has so many on the right, and so many cops (often right-wingers themselves), seething:
This is profoundly personal for me. I was at the White House the other day, and the President of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said, I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens. I said to him I did. Because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years, about the dangers he may face. A good young man, a law-abiding young man, who would never think to do anything wrong, and yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face – we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.
And that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first – that our police are here to protect us, and we honor that, and at the same time, there’s a history we have to overcome, because for so many of our young people, there’s a fear. And for so many of our families, there’s a fear. So I’ve had to worry, over the years, Chirlane’s had to worry – was Dante safe each night? There are so many families in this city who feel that each and every night – is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities – crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods – but are they safe from the very people they want to have faith in as their protectors? That’s the reality. And it conforms to something bigger that you’ve heard come out in the protests in Ferguson, and all over the country.
That “reality” he talked about, a reality that most black folks feel in their bones, is undeniable. It’s not just anectodal, it’s backed up by data, even though the data are incomplete. Black people aren’t just imagining that they have to be extra careful when interacting police, it is the sad truth they do. Doing otherwise could cost them their lives. But even if conservatives dispute the data, even if right-wingers think blacks are wrong to be extra-wary of the police, no one can deny that black people do feel that way. As the mayor said, there is “a history we have to overcome.”
Yet, the reactionaries just can’t seem to acknowledge any reality outside of their own. For instance, I watched the interview of the often repulsive Rudy Giuliani on the always repulsive, IQ-slaying Fox and Friends program yesterday morning. Giuliani called de Blasio’s response “racist.” He said he was “tearing down respect for a criminal justice system that goes back to England in the 11th century.” He made that reference, which he used to support a false claim, as if he didn’t understand that 900 years have passed and that our Western justice system has evolved. It’s better now than it has ever been, as imperfect as it is. And it’s better because people were willing to fight to make it better, people were willing to criticize it, to demand it be changed, as opposed to offering it a “respect” it did not deserve.
I won’t go deeply into the other ridiculous or irrelevant right-wing rot that Giuliani spouted to Fox viewers yesterday morning—you know, there was “no racism” in the Garner case and blacks should stop killing blacks, blah, blah, blah—neither will I bother to go deeply into Bill O’Reilly’s false claim that de Blasio “continues to denigrate his own cops” and his ridiculously false claim that ” the nation’s largest city has a mayor who has lost the support of his 35,000-member police force.” Neither Giuliani nor O’Reilly have a love affair with reality.
Nor does the president of a group of police unions, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association’s Patrick Lynch. Here’s what Lynch said about de Blasio’s comments:
What police officers felt yesterday after that press conference is that they were thrown under the bus. That they were out there doing a difficult job in the middle of the night, protecting the rights of those to protest, protecting our sons and daughters and the mayor was behind microphones like this throwing them under the bus.
That statement, as delusional as it was, wasn’t the worst thing the union president said. He actually chimed in on the attributes of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put a violent chokehold on Eric Garner and then pushed Garner’s face into the concrete with as much force as he could muster:
He’s a model of what we want a police officer to be. He’s a mature, mature police officer, motivated by serving the community. He literally is an Eagle Scout.
The Eagle Scout, the model of a police officer, I remind you, helped kill a man in July, a man who was merely accused of merely selling loose cigarettes on the street. The Eagle Scout, CNN reports, has a problematic professional past:
…court records show he has been sued at least twice, both times on allegations of false arrest and unlawful imprisonment.
One suit was brought by two men from Staten Island, Darren Collins and Tommy Rice, who alleged that Pantaleo arrested them in 2012 on baseless charges, and humiliated them in public.
They claimed that on the street, during an arrest on drug suspicions, Pantaleo and another officer “pulled down the plaintiffs’ pants and underwear, and touched and searched their genital areas, or stood by while this was done in their presence.”
Lawyers for the officers denied the charges, saying they acted reasonably and exercised their discretion. But they reached a settlement in the case, for $30,000, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
“The other suit,” CNN reported, “has not yet been resolved.” That suit involves false arrest and false imprisonment related to, gasp, “marijuana possession.”
As a union man myself, as someone who has represented employees accused of wrongdoing, I understand the need to stand behind your guy, if you think your guy is innocent, or if you think your guy deserves the benefit of the doubt, or even if you think your guy deserves mercy. But I don’t understand the union president saying the mayor tossed cops under the bus, when he clearly didn’t—he didn’t even toss Officer Pantaleo under the bus—when he clearly went out of his way to carefully state the reality that black people feel in New York City and elsewhere.
And I certainly don’t understand his saying, with a straight face, that Eagle Scout Daniel Pantaleo is “a model of what we want a police officer to be.” Since 1908, all Scouts have supposedly subscribed to Scout Law:
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
While Eric Garner was dying, just after he was put on a stretcher, just after he had received no apparent first aid treatment for several minutes, our chokehold-loving Eagle Scout was waving, mockingly, to the camera:
Here is the video of the aftermath of the takedown of Eric Garner. The waving comes at 6:57, if you want to see how a helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, and reverent Eagle Scout-cop behaves while the man he choked is about to die: