Death Wish.

As anyone knows who ever watched the “Death Wish” movies starring Charles Bronson, New York City is full of crazy people. Recognition of that truth helps us to understand the current conflict between Mayor Bill Di Blasio and the NYPD.

First of all, in spite of the concatenation of questionable police killings nation-wide in the past year and in spite of Mayor Di Blasio’s warning to his son, NYPD police shot to death three people during 2014. That is down from eight in 2013 (and 91 in 1971). Police department shootings fell by more than half in the later 1970s, then trended downward to one-sixth of the 1971 level though the first decade of the 21st Century. New York is a less violent city than in the past and the NYPD is less inclined to use lethal force.[1]

Second, it is dangerous to be a police officer, but much less dangerous than it used to be. In the “Bloody Seventies,” an average of 127 law enforcement officers a year were killed in the line of duty nationwide. Then the death-toll began to fall. In 2013, 32 police officers were shot to death in the line of duty; in 2014 the number rose to 50 officers killed.[2]

Third, Eric Garner was not an “unarmed black man” who died from an illegal choke-hold. He was a 6’3”, 350-pound career petty criminal[3] who suffered from asthma, heart disease, and obesity. When police attempted to arrest him for the minor crime of allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on 17 July 2014, Garner resisted arrest. Officer Daniel Pantaleo put his arm around Garner’s neck and dragged him backward to the ground. Garner fell hard. However, the medical examiner found that there was no damage to either Garner’s windpipe or neck-bones. So, he wasn’t killed by the “chokehold.” He may have died of either a heart-attack or a severe asthma attack brought on by the arm around his neck, a high level of stress, and the slamming to the ground of a fat man with a bad pump. After Garner hit the ground, the police did nothing to assist Garner beyond calling for an ambulance. Garner died in the ambulance on his way to hospital.

Fourth, there is absolutely nothing to connect the liberal posturing of the mayor to the murder of the two New York police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. Their murderer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, was a lifelong failure and malcontent who shot the officers after having shot and wounded the girl who had dumped him. It is obvious that he seized upon the Garner death as a way to go out in a blaze of gunfire that would make his otherwise forgettable life ring out.

Fifth, the hostility to Mayor Di Blasio arises from two sources. On the one hand, the unions representing NYPD officers are engaged in contract talks with the city. Anything that gives the unions the moral bulge on the city is fine with the unions. On the other hand, Mayor di Blasio is a fool—as a recent in-depth story by the New York Times makes clear.[4] He’s a racist and a classist. He ignored the reality of shared values and shared experiences among cops and assumed that a “more diverse” police force would naturally agree with him. Worse, he dumped off responsibility for his own errors on to cops in his security detail, blaming them for speeding by the mayoral entourage and for his late arrival at a ceremony when he had in fact over-slept. Well, the demonstrations by the cops may be seen as a wake-up call.

[1] http://reason.com/blog/2014/12/15/the-nypd-shoots-and-kills-fewer-people-t

[2] The Week, 16 January 2015, p. 16.

[3] Garner’s arrests included assault, grand larceny, and—most often—the selling of black-market untaxed cigarettes.

[4] Article summarized in Leon Neyfakh, “Bill Di Blasio’s Bad Bet,” http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2015/01/nypd_and_bill_de_blasio_why_new_york_s_mayor_was_wrong_to_count_on_police.html

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