NYPD v. Bill de Blasio: Why New York’s mayor, police are at odds

Last week at the funeral of police officer Rafael Ramos — who was assassinated with his partner, Wenjian Liu, as they sat in their patrol car — cops literally turned their backs on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in a show of disrespect. Many in the police department blame what they see as his anti-police policies for the two cops’ deaths.

Leonard Levitt

The New York Police Department holds a special place in New York City — for better and for worse. In the early 1970s, the department was the subject of public hearings that revealed systemic corruption at every level, even inside the police commissioner’s office.

Twenty years later the NYPD was credited with dramatically bringing down the city’s soaring crime rate. After 9/ll, cops were viewed as heroes. New Yorkers were in awe of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s police commissioner, Ray Kelly, who presented himself as the lone man standing between the city and another terrorist attack.

Now the pendulum has swung again. Last year, De Blasio campaigned for mayor by blasting Kelly’s over-the-top stop-and-risk policy. In the 12 years it was active, the policy led to 4 million stops of black and Hispanic young men, virtually none of whom had committed a crime.

In his first year as mayor, many in the department feel that de Blasio has demonized the police. Despite his repeated praise for cops and the difficult jobs they do, they feel his actions have belied his words.

Supporters of the mayor — this New York Times editorial may say it best – point to increased funding for the department, the end of “quotas” for arrests and summonses and the falling murder rate as evidence that de Blasio has the best interests of the police at heart.

Still, he has embraced Al Sharpton, one of the most polarizing figures in the city, who has been an unrelenting critic of the department over the years. At a City Hall event last summer — supposedly to help unify the city following the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner as police attempted to arrest him — the mayor seated Sharpton next to him with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton on the mayor’s other side. Whether intended or not, the mayor symbolically elevated Sharpton as Bratton’s equal. Bratton himself has said that he regrets the seating arrangement.

Since then, the mayor has continued to court Sharpton. Attending his 60th birthday party in October, the mayor described Sharpton as the nation’s preeminent civil rights figure and “a blessing for this city.”

“The more people criticize him, the more I want to hang out with him,” the mayor said.

Then there was De Blasio’s reluctance to fire Sharpton’s former spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger, whom the mayor had appointed as his wife, Chirlane McCray’s, $170,000-per-year chief of staff.

He seemed to shrug off the arrests of Noerdlinger’s live-in boyfriend, Hassaun McFarlan as well as McFarlan’s and Noerdlinger’s 17-year-old son Khari’s anti-police postings in which they both called cops “pigs.”

Only after Khari was arrested for trespassing at a known drug location in the Bronx did Noerdlinger take an “indefinite leave of absence.” De Blasio has continued to support Noerdlinger since the announcement. He referred to news media reports on Noerdlinger’s personal life as “repulsive.”

The mayor also orchestrated a whopping $41 million settlement to five non-white teenagers [four black and one Hispanic] wrongly convicted in the Central Park Jogger case, which for 25 years has fanned the city’s racial flames. Complicating the picture is that, on the night of the rape, police believe the five were part of a group of 30 assaulting others in the park, though no charges were filed. In addition, their confessions to the police and prosecutors each implicated each other in beating the jogger, to within an inch of her life.

To win such cases, plaintiffs must prove they were not merely convicted wrongfully but that the police and/or prosecutors acted willfully: in the jogger case, that they convicted the five teenagers, knowing they were innocent.

In its settlement agreement, the city specifically stated that neither the police nor prosecutors had acted wrongly.

Then there was de Blasio’s recent announcement that he had warned his biracial son Dante about the dangers of dealing with the NYPD.

“Because of a history that still hangs over us [and] the dangers that he may face, we’ve had to literally train him as families have all over this city for decades in how to take special care in any encounter he has with police officers, who are there to protect him. …

“There’s so many families in this city who feel that each and every night. Is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities of crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods, but are they safe from the very people they want to have faith in, as their protectors?”

While nobody can deny that a black teenager or adult is more likely to encounter trouble from the police than a white one, de Blasio seemed to be going out of his way to make a political point. His remarks led cop union president Patrick Lynch to say the mayor was throwing cops “under the bus,” and that he would not be welcome at any future police funeral. De Blasio has repeatedly said that he has made many efforts to support the police.

Finally there were the anti-police demonstrations that began after a grand jury failed to indict anyone for Garner’s death. Before they began, Bratton announced that protesters would not be allowed to take over the city — either its roadways or bridges. Instead, they were allowed to do just that.

A group of marchers was seen on TV, shouting, “What do we want? Dead cops!” Other marchers are charged with attacking two police lieutenants on the Brooklyn Bridge and beating them to the ground.

The initial response of the mayor’s press office to those attacks was to describe them as “alleged,” rather than substantiated fact.

During his mayoral campaign, de Blasio’s mantra was a “tale of two cities.” Now, as his first year as mayor ends, he seems to have become New York City’s Great Divider.

PHOTO: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio walks away from the podium after speaking to the New York City Police Academy Graduating class in New York, Dec 29, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri