When did de Blasio become Giuliani?

May 6, 2015

When it comes to police, New York City's liberal mayor is starting to sound like his right-wing critics, writes New York City activist and WBAI radio co-host Sandy Boyer.

WHEN THE New York City Police Department attacked a nonviolent march for Freddie Gray on April 29, arresting nearly 140 people, the city's current liberal Mayor Bill de Blasio and its rabidly conservative former Mayor Rudy Giuliani were in complete agreement that the cops handled things correctly.

"That's the way to do it," Giuliani told reporters. "What they did last night is a textbook case in how you handle a demonstration."

De Blasio used his liberal credentials and activist background to make the same point, chiding protesters for not using "proper" civil disobedience techniques--which, according to the mayor, requires that "you plan with the police what's going to happen" and "when the police give you an instruction, you follow the instruction. It's not debatable."

"We have an extraordinary tradition of freedom of thought, a respect for diversity of all kinds, and a deep, deep respect for the right to peacefully protest," de Blasio added. "It's something that I believe that the NYPD has handled, over many, many years, with exceptional distinction."

New York police piling on a protester at a march in solidarity with Baltimore's uprising
New York police piling on a protester at a march in solidarity with Baltimore's uprising (Joe Catron)

People who were at the march described what the cops' "deep respect" looked like at this peaceful protest. Linda Sarsour, a coordinator for the National Network for Arab American Communities, told the Wall Street Journal how women were bloodied and children terrified when police moved in and blocked the demonstrators.

At a press conference protesting the NYPD's actions at the demonstration, New York State Assemblyman Michael Blake described seeing a cop hit a woman sitting in the street with a baton, then walk away. "It was absolutely unacceptable and unjust," Blake said. "People were brutalized."

"The protest was nonviolent," added state Sen. Gustavo Rivera. "And yet the response from police was violent."

DE BLASIO'S newfound appreciation for the NYPD and its deep devotion to civil liberties is in contrast to his stance towards the cops during his mayoral campaign and his first year in office, when he attempted to relate to the widespread frustration with police among many of the city's people of color.

When angry marches erupted last December after Officer Daniel Panteleo wasn't indicted for the choking murder of Eric Garner, De Blasio issued a statement that expressed mild support for the protesters' cause and defended the "Black Lives Matter" slogan as "a phrase that should never have to be said. It should be self-evident, but our history requires us to say that black lives matter."

"We're not just dealing with a problem in 2014," the mayor continued. "We're not dealing with years of racism leading up to it, or decades of racism. We are dealing with centuries of racism that have brought us to this day. That is how profound the crisis is."

De Blasio infuriated police and right-wing pundits by saying that he worries about how cops might treat his biracial son Dante, and that he and his wife have had to warn Dante about the police: "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 the police officers who are there to protect him."

De Blasio's comments about the Garner verdict produced a predictable outpouring of pro-cop outrage, led by Giuliani, who accused the mayor of "tearing down respect for a criminal justice system."

"If he wants to train young Black men in how to avoid being killed in this city," Giuliani said, "...[de Blasio] should spend 90 percent of [his] time talking about the way they're actually probably going to get killed, which is by another Black. To avoid that fact, I think, is racist."

Giuliani didn't really need to bother to attack the mayor. The cops themselves were perfectly capable of cutting de Blasio down to size. "What police officers felt yesterday after that press conference is that they were thrown under the bus," declared Pat Lynch, the president of the largest police union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. "That they were out there doing a difficult job in the middle of the night, protecting the rights of those to protest, protecting our sons and daughters, and the mayor was behind microphones like this throwing them under the bus."

The PBA encouraged the cops to turn their backs on de Blasio at the funeral for two police officers who were killed when a mentally disturbed man shot them in their police car. That was a public relations disaster for the mayor, but there was much worse to come.

The PBA ordered a work slowdown. Cops suddenly stopped making routine arrests, writing traffic tickets or issuing summonses. Arrests went down 66 percent, drug arrests fell by 84 percent, and summons and tickets for minor offenses dropped by 94 percent.

The New York Post reported that the city was losing $46 million on parking tickets alone, and that the city's business elite was "in a panic." The Independent Budget Office declared that "if the losses continue over weeks and months, the effect on the budget becomes more substantial."

De Blasio has learned his lesson very well. From that day on, he hasn't had a good word to say about Black Lives Matter demonstrations--and he's very careful never to appear even mildly critical of the cops. He seldom ventures to say anything at all about the police in public without Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, the architect of "Broken Windows" policing, standing by his side.

De Blasio has much more to fear from the police than bad publicity or even lost city revenue. Big business interests--the Wall Street investors, insurance companies and real estate barons who really matter in New York City--know how much they need the police force to protect property rights, maintain their law and order, and keep protests from getting out of control.

For all his occasional radical rhetoric, De Blasio is, first and foremost, a fairly mainstream Democratic Party politician. He understands perfectly that his real job is to protect property and promote business--and that at the end of the day, he can't let a little thing like police murder get in the way of that.

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