Gothamist put out a piece on a recent Bratton appearance where he “bemoans all the work it takes to explain police shooting Black men.” Here is an excerpt. Please go on to read the material from December for context. Bratton has gotten away for far too long with a public perception of him that is polar opposite of what he actually stands for. I’ll say it again, it isn’t because someone speaks softly that their words are any kinder or more thoughtful.
Bratton Bemoans All The Work It Takes To Explain Police Shooting Black Men
Police commissioner Bill Bratton took to AM radio on Friday to decry what he described as a “gang-up-on-the-police mentality” that he said is prevalent today, especially in the media and among activists. The press-savvy top cop used last week’s police shooting of suspected serial hammer attacker David Baril as an example of the rush to judgement his public relations team is fighting.
“Immediately they started Twittering, you know, ‘Cops kill another black man again,'” Bratton said during the interview with 970 AM’s John Gambling. “We are dealing with that where anybody with a thumb can try to rule the airwaves. And it takes a lot of work to push back. That’s why we have a very active social media, why we were very quick to put out the video.”
In his softball radio interview, though, Bratton doesn’t have to answer questions like these. Gambling refers to Baril as “the crazy with the hammer that was taken off the streets this week” and doesn’t challenge Bratton when he says that police racism, brutality, and corruption are “no longer systemic,” though there are plenty of researchers and everyday New Yorkers who would argue otherwise. As he often does in public statements, Bratton in this interview alternated between dismissing those who predict policy changes would precipitate a dramatic slide into the Bad Old Days, and invoking that argument himself.
Also in the interview, Bratton criticized the police body cameras he once said were “too important to wait” for, saying now that mistrust of police could lead juries to be suspicious when video is absent in a criminal case. Therefore, the cameras “aren’t the cure-all they’re represented to be.” Nobody could accuse Bratton of being biased against spin.
December 31st, 2014.
New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton appeared on TV, twice, this last Sunday of 2014. While, on the surface, it might appear as if he sided strongly with Mayor de Blasio, all it takes is watching both six-minute interviews to see that it really isn’t the case.
Yes, Commissioner Bratton is a very polite man who doesn’t look kindly upon protests at a funeral. But don’t take his adherence to decorum to mean that he wouldn’t look kindly upon such protests at a different and more appropriate venue. Oh, and yes, Commissioner Bratton does think his officers do an incredible job and show “great restraint in the face of incredible provocation.”
Many news outlets represented Bill Bratton’s appearances as positive for Mayor de Blasio. While they’re certainly not negative, they’re only superficially positive. Let’s review the key areas Bratton made sure he touched upon.
His officers turning their backs on the mayor. He denounced the behavior at the funeral. He didn’t denounce it anywhere else. So, it’s really more a matter of where they did it, than it is about them doing it at all.
GARRETT: But your officers — some of your officers yesterday turned their backs when the mayor spoke, when they saw him on the video screen outside Rafael Ramos’s funeral.
Was that necessary? Was that something you support? And does that indicate that the mayor, for whatever he’s put on the table financially, needs to do more to communicate more clearly his rhetorical support for your police officers?
BRATTON: I certainly don’t support that action yesterday. I think it was very inappropriate at that event. That funeral was held to honor officer Ramos. And to bring politics, to bring issues into that event, I think, was very inappropriate. And I do not support it. He is the mayor of New York. He was there representing the citizens of New York to express their remorse and their regret at that death.
And it was inappropriate. And at the same time, it is reflective, unfortunately, of the feelings of some of our officers that — at this juncture about not just the mayor, but I think about some of the many issues that are afflicting this city at this time and this particular police department.
The Commish painted the NYPD labor dispute as the bigger political impetus for the union’s negative behavior. Bratton did qualify his statement by specifying that the dispute predates Mayor de Blasio’s election. He also made mention of the fact that Mayor de Blasio supplemented the police budget from funds that were not originally earmarked for the police and that those funds helped ensure the safety of his officers.
“I think it’s probably a rift that is going to go on for a while longer. However, we will be making efforts to sit down and talk with the union leaders in particular to deal with their issues. The issues go far beyond race relations in this city. They involve labor contracts. They involve a lot of history in the city that’s really different from some of what’s going on in the country as a whole.” William Bratton [ Meet The Press – Rush Transcript ]
GARRETT: And you were going to talk about morale. Quickly, how is the morale of your officers in this very tense time?
BRATTON: Morale in the department at this time — morale in the department at this time is low. There’s no getting around that, that that’s the reality. And it’s low for multiplicity of reasons, including contract negotiations. There’s a lot going on that is particular to New York City, that is separate and apart from the national discussions around issues of race and police.
GARRETT: If you were to try to put a percentage on it, which is the bigger part of the morale problem, this national conversation, this national sense that police are somehow in the wrong, or these underlying, more traditional beefs between the union, the mayor’s office and City Hall?
BRATTON: I think it would be very difficult to try to break it up that way, if you will, on a percentage basis.
I think all those factors contribute to what is at this time in the department low morale. But what I would point out is the professionalism of these officers who every day are going out there, continuing to reduce crime. This year will be a historic year for the department, the lowest crime rates ever, continuing a 21-year unbroken trend that began back in the 1990s.
It’s also the idea that in the face of all these demonstrations, they have been showing remarkable professional restraint, when much of the invective is directed directly against them, personally against them also.
GARRETT: Do you think Mayor de Blasio should do more and should have done more to deal what you just referred to as invective directed at your officers?
BRATTON: I spend a lot of time with this mayor. And Mayor de Blasio is totally supportive of his personnel, this department.
I have received hundreds of millions of additional dollars outside the budget this year, a lot of it focused on officer safety enhancements, additional training, additional equipment, additional technology. By the end of 2015, we will be the most advanced police department in America in terms of technology, technology which will be extraordinarily beneficial to the safety of our officers, $35 million being focused on training enhancements, tactical skills enhancements.
No, this is a mayor that cares very deeply about New York City police officers, cares very deeply about the divide in the city at this time, and is working very hard to heal that divide.
On “The Talk,” Bratton had this oddly impersonal thing to say:
“I interact quite frequently with African Americans from all classes and there’s not a single one that hasn’t expressed this concern,”
Absent from those statements is any condemnation of the continuing need to give said talk, the part that his officers play in it or, quite frankly, any sympathy for those who have to give it. If Bratton was neutral at any point in these two interviews, it was when talking about how, to a person, every single African American he knows has to give “The Talk.” There was no emotion. There was nothing.
Bratton made sure to mention the Eric Garner and Akai Gurley cases, though, with the latter, he didn’t utter Gurley’s name and made sure to, again, reinforce that his shooting was accidental. Those mentions, however, didn’t come with any condemnations of brutal police behavior. They were just examples of reasons why the African American community is upset.
Bratton made mention of the civil rights movement and political unrest of the 60’s as a frame of reference for his formative years as a career officer in Boston and New York. Here, Bratton very deftly connects present-day protests nationwide to the 60’s civil rights movement, using them as tools to minimize the importance of NYPD police brutality in New York with respect to the underlying reasons for the New York City protests, while in the same breath, talking about the need for both sides to see each other as opposed to past each other, and listen to the others’ grievances. If a politician were to attempt this kind of
finessedmassaged logic, she’d be immediately called intellectually dishonest.
Well, I think this week, as we try to come together to work out some of these issues, comments such as those that you just read, a person’s opinion of what they’re seeing, it is unfortunate that we have at this time of such great success in dealing with the crime for New York City, for example, over the last 21 years, at a time that the city is effectively booming in so many ways, that we have these frustrations, these pent-up frustrations. You need to understand this isn’t just about policing. This goes to much larger issues. We’re the tip of the iceberg at the moment. This is about the continuing poverty rates, the continuing growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor. It’s still about unemployment issues. There are so many national issues that have to be addressed that it isn’t just policing, as I think we all well know.
But then, just as we are lulled by Bratton’s soothing talk of reconciliation, the hammer falls right on the head when he characterizes his officers’ performance of “great restraint in the face of incredible provocation.” Whose provocation is Bratton alluding to? If he wasn’t talking about the BlackLivesMatter protesters, then… who else could it be? What exactly does Bratton mean when he says:
The common ground here is, really, to one as we’ve been doing in New York, deal with the demonstrations in a way that they don’t turn into police riots, if you will, to allow some breathing room in the sense of allowing people to demonstrate, to vent; and at the same time showing on the part of the police remarkable restraint in the face of great provocation. My cops have been doing a phenomenal job dealing with these demonstrations that you really have to be on the front lines with them to understand what they’re dealing with in these instances.
Nothing in the statement above denotes even an inch of give to the notion that Bratton might, in any way, shape, or form, concede any ground to the Black Lives Matter protests. He talks about the perceptions and realities outside the police department as things, maybe provocative things that cops must wade through as a soldier might wade through a minefield. There is no concession that the protests are a response to unacceptable policing.
In answer to this question from Chuck Todd:
And finally, in some of your comments you’ve been somewhat critical of the national attention from national leaders, the implication, perhaps, with Attorney General Holder, President Obama. What role do you want them to play in this?
Well, this goes to the idea of seeing people. See us. See the police. See why they have the anxieties and the perceptions they have. They really do feel under attack, rank-and-file officers and much of American police leadership. They feel that they are under attack from the federal government at the highest levels. So, that’s something we need to understand also, this sense of perception that becomes a reality. We have a lot of talking we’re going to have to do here to understand all sides of this issue. This is not a one-sided issue. [Bratton]
Here, Bratton’s tour de force is taking the nerf ball Todd handed to him and spiking it in the end zone by using the blame Todd alluded to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, and then turning that around to reduce #BlackLivesMatter to anxieties and perceptions, while simultaneously elevating all US police forces’ sense of being under siege by framing the Federal government as a legitimate threat to all police, and not just the NYPD.
One only need to look at Bratton’s history as chief of police, wherever and whenever he’s served, to study his masterful strategy of saying one thing and continuing to do another.
Mayor de Blasio must stand firm. While he should recognize the positive things in Commissioner Bratton’s statements over the past weeks, he must not, under any circumstance, allow himself to be blinded by them. Bratton still is who he is: a cop who favors his own. To the distracted, this Sunday, Bratton may have seemed a neutral figure, between an embattled mayor and a hyperactive, thuggish union rep. But make no mistake, Bratton still espouses the same views he’s always espoused, in the same calm, polite, New England manner he’s always exhibited. While he may have repudiated the rudeness in the union’s delivery of its protest, he hasn’t repudiated the message contents. One should not come away with the sense that, today, Bratton has any more sympathy for the plight of minorities than he did before. Bratton hasn’t acknowledged the existence of police brutality or spoken of it, as fact, as any of the “African Americans he interacts with quite frequently” do. What his TV appearances should reinforce in all of us is that his toned-down delivery is of the same policy positions he’s been known for.
If Mayor de Blasio really has as his ambition the transformation of the NYPD into the community’s police force, he will have to do so by very quietly but firmly asserting himself to his commissioner and tasking Bratton with the implemention a very detailed and comprehensive reform package, with no wiggle room for modification.
Police forces around the country have become accustomed to a degree of autonomy that has, over decades, brought us to the brink of the police state. Between surveillance at the national federal level, the intertwining of Federal and local policing, added to which are militarization through equipment used and tactical approaches, and we are perilously close, if not past the point of losing our Democracy. Taking it back isn’t for the faint of heart. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s election, at this point in time in New York City’s history, marks a historical turning point not only for his being the first Democrat to be elected into high office in over twenty years, but the one whose mission to demilitarize is the first in any large American metropolis all the while removing
decades-oldcentury-old institutional racism in the process.
de Blasio’s success is America’s freedom. Failure is not an option.
Bill Bratton’s 12/28/2014 appearance on MSNBC’s Meet The Press: