The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and other law enforcement unions held a news conference this week to insist that — contrary to the medical examiner’s official finding — Eric Garner did not die of a chokehold. Then they really shoved the debate downhill.
Ed Mullins, who heads the sergeants union, dropped broad hints of a work slowdown if City Hall and 1 Police Plaza don’t give cops the support they think they deserve.
Not only would that be a grievous defiance of proper oversight, it would further damage relations between cops and the people they’re sworn to protect. Mullins did seem to walk his comments back a step or two Wednesday. But his veiled threat continues to resonate.
The NYPD and the broad majority of its more than 35,000 officers have done a magnificent job cutting crime rates in recent decades. People are safer. Murders are at their lowest level in modern history. And cops are safer, too. Twelve officers were shot and killed by suspects in 1971. Zero officers were shot and killed in 2013.
Yet major unresolved problems remain on both sides of the debate. Use of the forbidden chokehold is a chronic issue. Public pushback against policing tools — stop-and-frisk protocols or enforcement of small quality-of-life infractions, when used appropriately — is another.
Discussion, even in the rough and tumble ways new Yorkers often have it, can nudge the city toward solutions. And vigorous debate might encourage the NYPD to work harder to ensure cops extend basic principles of respect and dignity to all citizens while they enforce the law.
Videos of Garner’s takedown with what looks like a chokehold — despite pleas that he couldn’t breathe — seem like a textbook case of what not to do.
Just minutes after that incident, Garner was dead. The only plausible resolution to his death is a comprehensive investigation by Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan and the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau. Union pressure to undermine such inquiries is irresponsible.
“There’s no contradiction between doing your job effectively and respecting the people you serve,” says Mayor Bill de Blasio. But the unions are making that job harder.