Feature 06.21.2021 6 minutes

The Assault on the NYPD


Cynical politicians endanger their own citizens for the sake of mob appeasement.

In their effort to frame police officers as bad guys on par with violent criminals, government officials in New York have vastly overcorrected from any systemic police brutality that may have been present within the NYPD. In The Last Days of New York, Seth Barron carefully lays out the complicated truth about policing, the growing anti-police rhetoric—often promulgated by government officials—and the predictable damage done by weak leaders trying (in vain) to appease a radical mob by defunding the police.

As Barron points out, many advocates of police reform point to videos of arrests found on the internet. But these videos usually show a small portion of a much longer interaction. Even if some of the actions caught on film are wrong, sudden reforms make use-of-force standards a moving target, so that it becomes more difficult for officers to arrest suspects who resist.

On top of this, reduced funding to the police department means limited resources (non-lethal equipment, additional officers, and so on), which will likely result in one of two extremes: more police shootings—because other options are limited—or more crime, either because the police presence has diminished or because morale has decreased and officers are less proactive.

Either way, the city becomes less safe.

Barron is under no illusions. He does not pretend there are no bad officers, nor does he give a pass to those who truly abuse their power. He simply acknowledges the fact that when you assume police officers are bad, you seek to minimize their effectiveness. Chastising officers for addressing bad behavior will necessarily embolden people to behave badly. Combine this with reduced use of force and an eagerness to release those criminals who do get arrested, and many officers are left wondering when they should enforce the law and when they should stand down. Barron gives us a powerful example of this dynamic in the case of Jazmine Headley.

Headley’s story, like many stories with a black principal, is painted by the media and politicians as a racial narrative—another illustration of the systemic racism which plagues all blacks at every moment of their daily lives. But in reality, Headley’s story is about the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and what we do about behavior that is deemed unacceptable. Barron writes:

Jazmine Headley went to the Human Resources Administration social services office to find out why she had stopped receiving vouchers for childcare for her 1-year-old son. After waiting for three hours, unable to find a seat, she sat on the floor. As in most buildings open to the public and subject to fire and building codes, sitting on the floor was not allowed. Security officers—not NYPD officers, but NYC Human Resources Police Department “special officers”—asked Headley to get up. She quarreled with the officer and refused. She was told to leave the building and refused again.

The police were called, and Headley was forcibly detained while onlookers screamed and took video. Of course, the arrest of a mother holding her 1-year-old son looks terrible. But the real question, the one Barron asks, is: what were the officers supposed to do? Headley was lying on the floor, refusing to move—what was the next step? Were they to allow the behavior? Swap the HRA Center for a Denny’s: would we expect the restaurant owner to ask the police to remove her? If so, is there a non-physical way to do it?

It is always appropriate to ask if officers could have done better. But the same should go for everyone else involved. Why did Headley sit on the floor? Why was the wait three hours? Why didn’t anyone give up their seat to a mother with a 1-year-old son? Also, even if the officers were wrong, how are we to know that the interaction was racist?

Of course, though, charges of racism were bandied about by many for clout and profit. This included grandstanding politicians from the city council all the way up to the mayor’s office. Of course none of them mentioned what Barron highlights in the book: everyone involved was black. Headley, the HRA officers, the NYPD officers, the people working at the center, even most of the clients in the waiting room. So, what made this an act of racism?

When the dust settled, 22 security guards resigned or were fired. Corey Johnson, speaker of the city council, tearfully apologized to Headley, and she was awarded $625,000. Seems like a hefty reward for bad behavior, but that is where we are. In fact, things are much worse now: the Headley incident happened in 2018.

In the nearly three years since then, we have seen far worse behavior go unpunished, if not ignored. Broken windows policing used to be somewhat controversial; now we are letting people attack officers, loot stores, tear down statues, and attack innocent subway riders. For this behavior, they are rewarded with a quick release and the freedom to harass citizens with impunity.

At the center of this decline is Mayor Bill de Blasio. The mayor gives lip service to the importance of safety, even trying to convince New Yorkers that everything is fine and crime is down. But the citizens are not buying it. How could they? They have eyes. They can see and feel what is really happening, and they are demanding more police and safer streets. Unfortunately, there is no way to deliver what the citizens want and what the city needs when the primary focus of the mayor and his fellow members of the elite is to “fix systemic racism” (read: pander to the woke mob) at all costs. The scapegoat in this whole sorry affair is the NYPD—which means that as long as the present craze continues, we truly will be headed for the Last Days of New York.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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