A single, minor attack on a police officer can not be held up as evidence of societal collapse.
I have a lot of thoughts about the police — and the NYPD in particular — many of which seem contradictory at first blush.
I think NYPD's rookie officers should be getting significantly better pay. I also think the department should be broadly defunded in favor of better forms of community intervention.
NYC: *cuts $707 million from education budget* Also NYC: *robot police dogs* https://t.co/9kHposeQW5— Done Waiting🌹 (@Done Waiting🌹) 1618337084.0
There's a police precinct near my home where groups of officers are often loitering out front, and I always feel anxious and uncomfortable as I pass by. Even as a white guy minding my own business, the presence of people authorized to commit violence for the state is intimidating. But, at the same time, I've had occasion to be grateful that they're so nearby and have had pleasant interactions with officers who seemed like they were doing their best to be helpful.
I'm glad that the NYPD doesn't use their guns as often as many other American police forces — with consistently far fewer "officer-involved shootings" than in Los Angeles, a city half New York's size (though that's faint praise considering the history of the LAPD).
But I also know that's far from an antidote to police violence, and the biggest difference between the killing of George Floyd and that of Eric Garner is that — unlike Derek Chauvin — fired NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo was never put on trial.
Eric Garner's Daughter Exits Court Yelling 'Fire Pantaleo!' After DOJ Decides No Charges for Cop www.youtube.com
I also tend to think that a popular narrative that "All Cops Are Bastards" is generally unhelpful. But I'm certain that it's not nearly as harmful as the institutional pressure never to hold the "bad apples" accountable — a practice that is more or less guaranteed to "spoil the bunch."
Like around 20 million or so of my fellow citizens, I marched with Black Lives Matter as part of the largest protest movement in American history, following the murder of George Floyd. But the fact that I — unlike my Black and brown neighbors — have never been the target of stop-and-frisk or other forms of racial profiling at the hands of the NYPD, has kept these issues at a distance.
Apart from a vague anxiety walking past them, I've never had a reason to wish ill on any individual cops I've encountered. So when I saw a recent video of a police officer being attacked in my neighborhood, I was — as usual — conflicted.
Welcome to NYC! Even as our Detectives investigate crimes they’re attacked by emboldened criminals, who have quick… https://t.co/ihwY0c08cg— Detectives' Endowment Association (@Detectives' Endowment Association) 1619476769.0
The video, posted to Twitter by The Detectives' Endowment Association of the City of New York — a police union, shows a detective taking notes on a recent burglary when a man walks up behind him with what appears to be a one of those fiberglass poles used to mark the edges of a driveway, and he strikes him over the head with it before jogging off.
It first came to my attention when much of Twitter started mocking it, and the temptation to join in was strong. But the fact that I know that block in Flushing — that my wife and I have been meaning to try the restaurant in the background, that the cop is likely based in the precinct down the street — gave me pause, and I found myself digging deeper.
I hate it when I'm filming my fellow sworn officer writing in a notebook and out of nowhere a dangerous criminal ve… https://t.co/A1XydMjvfC— luke (@luke) 1619529121.0
The main criticism was that the incident looked staged, and it's hard to argue that it doesn't. For a start, there's the question of why anyone was filming such a dull scene before anything happened. And the assailant — identified by the NYPD as 25-year-old Akeele Morgan — was so seemingly casual in the way he walked up to the detective and swung the pole.
There was hardly any force in the attack, after which Morgan backed away several steps before taking off at a light run, with other police in pursuit. Meanwhile, the detective Morgan struck had buckled over, clutching his head.
On first viewing, it doesn't even look like the pole hits the detective's head — it looks more like it comes in contact with his shoulder. But that turns out to be a trick of the camera angle, as closer inspection reveals the detective's glasses being knocked loose as the pole makes contact.
Welcome to NYC ! Where hardened criminals tap you once with a small stick, wait for a reaction than slowly and deli… https://t.co/ZnNSvPF1Di— h. jon benjamin (@h. jon benjamin) 1619540832.0
Still, there's something so surreal about the whole scene. It doesn't look like a genuine attack. It certainly doesn't look anything like the supposed phenomenon the union seemed to think it exemplified: "emboldened criminals, who have quickly realized there are no consequences for law breakers in our city."
Add to that the fact that the Detectives' Endowment Association has a proven record of hyperbole, and it all gets even harder to believe. Last year the union was called out for spreading misinformation about an alleged malicious poisoning involving some Shake Shack Milkshakes that tasted funny — it turned out to be a harmless amount of cleaning fluid that an employee had failed to wipe off the milkshake machine.
This fits the mold of the Kansas police officer who wrote "****ing pig" on his own coffee cup, the myth that pallets of bricks were being provided to protesters, and the "McMuffin Cop" who interpreted a delayed order as evidence of a plot against her.
The current climate of criticism and scrutiny being applied to the police has been met with disproportionate paranoia and efforts to frame innoccuous events as anti-cop violence.
Unfortunately, skepticism of these events can go too far, as well. Earlier this month, footage of a traffic stop was shared by the NYPD's official Twitter account. The driver threw a cup of liquid on the officer before fleeing, and the post referred to the liquid as "a chemical," adding that the driver later threw a Molotov cocktail at officers.
Today, a vehicle stop for running a red light proved once again that no traffic enforcement is “routine.” When appr… https://t.co/j5vDx9tqcE— NYPD NEWS (@NYPD NEWS) 1618693106.0
Users were quick to express their skepticism, insisting that the "chemical" was just a cup of water. But according to reports, the driver has since admitted to throwing bleach in the officer's face and of driving around with Molotov cocktails — one of which he attempted to use — with the intention of targeting police.
So, while we have good reason to question accounts of events offered by the police — and by the NYPD in particular, with its history of "testilying" — that can clearly go too far. Their tendency to exaggerate the dangers of the job doesn't mean that it's not genuinely dangerous.
There really are people who will violently attack a cop just for being a cop, and rhetoric claiming that they're "all bastards" may serve to inflame this violence. But what the Detectives' Endowment Association tweeted was far worse.
Seeing an isolated incidence of fairly mild violence — the detective was reportedly taken to a nearby hospital for "minor injuries," presumably meaning a small welt — and instantly framing it as an indication of societal collapse is a diseased sort of thinking.
It's also a train of thought that's familiar enough among political pundits who build their careers on "us vs. them" narratives. But when that same approach infects a public institution — the group nominally tasked to "protect and serve" the people who are increasingly on the other side of that dichotomy — that institution makes the strongest case for its abolition.
A) this is so obviously fake B) cops are such fucking pussies that a little love tap is supposed to convince us of… https://t.co/YT2kMTxQql— Rara 🐬 (@Rara 🐬) 1619554327.0
Because as horrifying as it is every time an unarmed civilian is killed by police seemingly on a whim, these incidents are still relatively rare. Most cops are obviously not murderers.
What's more pervasive is the sense of impunity — the fact that it's so hard to get justice when a police officer commits a crime — and the way every effort toward accountability is met with anger and resistance.
All police should unambiguously celebrate when punishment is doled out to the likes of Derek Chauvin. To use their logic, he was one of those "bad apples" that painted them all in a negative light.
So shouldn't they celebrate the fact that he's facing consequences? While some did, of course, far too many of his fellow cops took issue with his conviction.
In the aftermath of Chauvin's conviction on April 20th, Ed Mullins of the Sergeants Benevolent Association — another NYPD union — released a statement claiming that "it is hard to imagine a tougher time to be a member of the law enforcement profession," adding that "our elected officials are complicit in perpetuating the myth that we are the enemy."
This is the response when a cop is treated fairly in the justice system, instead of being allowed to walk the streets like Daniel Pantaleo. But somehow it's criminals like Akeele Morgan — who was arrested shortly after the video was taken and is being charged with assault, resisting arrest, criminal possession of a weapon, and disorderly conduct — whom police unions say we should think of as one of the city's "emboldened criminals."
Crowd reacts as Derek Chauvin found guilty over death of George Floyd – BBC News www.youtube.com
Many police unions would like us to think it's these civilians, lashing out ineffectually at representatives of power, that we should really be worried about. These are the people who supposedly face "no consequences."
But imagine making that kind of argument to Eric Garner's family. Imagine how they feel knowing that his killer is free because he wore a badge.
It seems unlikely that this latest video — as suspicious as it looks on its face — was staged for the sake of police union propaganda. Nonetheless, the union's message in that tweet was clear: "If citizens don't live in fear that we can kill them with impunity, we can't do our job."
If that's true of the cops in my neighborhood, whom I've otherwise felt okay about, then I will have no choice but to accept another premise I've been hesitant to embrace: That all cops are bastards, and that we must abolish the institution.
Maybe Flushing would be better off relying on concerned citizens, like the patrol groups that have formed to combat anti-Asian hate in recent months. Maybe the next time I'm tempted to call the police, I should turn to my neighbors instead.
I still think there's a better way — that there's a version of policing that can work and that's important to work toward. But the louder voices like the Detectives' Endowment Association get, the less hope I have that we can get there.