Whether he quit out of pique or principle, the abrupt retirement of Chief of Department Philip Banks, the NYPD's highest ranking black officer, underscores the role of race in the department and the city.
Six weeks ago, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton forced the retirement of First Deputy Commissioner Rafael Piñeiro, the NYPD's highest ranking Hispanic officer, creating a firestorm among Latino officers who feel they are not reflected at the top of the department.
The departures feed the perception that Bratton has been slow to appoint minorities to positions of authority and that Mayor Bill de Blasio -- with his embrace of Al Sharpton and the reverend's beleaguered former spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger -- can't effect the cultural change at the NYPD he had promised.
Perhaps this was to be expected after de Blasio at first forced Bratton to retain Banks and Piñeiro, who were appointed by former Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Perhaps, too, this was to be expected when Bratton, seemingly wanting to return to head the department, accepted de Blasio's terms.
While de Blasio may have felt comfortable with Banks' community policing philosophy, the mayor had no choice but to back Bratton after the commissioner refused to give Banks the authority Banks sought as part of his promotion to Piñeiro's old post.
De Blasio and Bratton have praised Banks, a 28-year veteran, but neither has really addressed the underlying issues that led to his departure: that under the guise of a promotion, Banks felt he was marginalized, as had previous first deputies. But by accepting the first deputy job, Banks was seen as heir apparent to Bratton. He had support at City Hall, particularly from de Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray.
Also, there is a sense among some law enforcement folks that Bratton will not remain more than another year, partly because the city's power elite whom Bratton seeks to befriend fears de Blasio's policies.
Within the NYPD, Banks' decision to resign is seen by some as hasty and disloyal. As a former first deputy who asked for anonymity put it, "You wait your turn. You accept your fate and you serve."
On the other hand, given the topsy-turvy state of racial politics in the de Blasio administration, Banks' abrupt departure might make him attractive as Bratton's successor.