Police Abuse

Eric Garner Who? New York on Verge of Giving Police Unions Even More Power to Protect Bad Cops


Daniel Pantaleo

There's a piece that ran in the Daily Beast today by Michael Tomasky that called on Democrats to forget about winning in the Deep South, a geographical region Tomasky claims has "euthanized" ideas like "trans-racial community," that irked me. I'm not interested in the argument over whether Democrats or Republicans are better for any particular jurisdiction anywhere in the country. They're both awful. I'm also not interested in the bigoted exercise of ascribing belief sets to entire populations of people based on where they live or where they came from.

I do understand, however, the power of "racialized resentment," something Tomasky assigns to the South. How much easier it is to work off an idea of reality based on your preconceived notions and partisan preferences rather than facts on the ground. Last week a grand jury in New York City declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner in police custody while a grand jury in South Carolina brought a murder charge against a white cop who shot a black man twice in the chest in a case the Department of Justice declined to prosecute last year. State prosecutors had been promising such a charge once the cop's spurious stand your ground claim was dismissed, and they had already charged him with official misconduct.

The kind of one-dimensional, partisan-colored thinking about different places isn't just unfair for the people trying to do the right thing in the "wrong places," it's dangerous for the wrong people stuck in the "right places."

Take New York State and this unfortunately not so shocking story via the Manhattan Institute's E.J. McMahon writing at the New York Post:

Sometime before year's end, the state Legislature must send Cuomo a bill it passed just weeks before Eric Garner's fatal July 17 confrontation in Staten Island. The measure would allow unions representing police and other civil-service employees across the state to insist on collective bargaining of disciplinary procedures affecting their members.

The bill represents the latest in a series of attempts by police unions to nullify a unanimous 2006 state Court of Appeals decision, which affirmed the New York City police commissioner's disciplinary authority.

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association had sued then-Commissioner Ray Kelly for overriding disciplinary provisions in the police contract — including a rule requiring NYPD superiors to wait at least 48 hours before questioning police officers accused of misconduct.

There have been sporadic protests in New York City and around the country since the grand jury decision not to indict in the Eric Garner case was announced last Wednesday night. Over the weekend protesters in Berkeley, California, threw rocks at cops. Absent in these protests, as far as I can see, is any discussion of the role of police unions in protecting bad cops and creating the space for killings like that of Eric Garner's to go unpunished. After all, Pantaleo still has a job thanks to his union. When another cop in New York City shot the unarmed Akai Gurley, apparently after freaking out because the teen and his girlfriend entered the stairwell he was patrolling, he called his union rep as his victim lay dying.

There are a lot of intersecting issues that contribute to the staggering death toll created by police forces across the United States. None will fit neatly into any partisan's agenda. And none has gotten less attention from an establishment suddenly concerned with police violence than the way police unions frustrate effort to remove bad cops from the job.

And here's where the over-racialization of the issue of police violence, especially when combined with partisan dogma, can be particularly problematic, and lethal. McMahon notes of the New York bill:

The police-discipline bill was a classic under-the-radar, end-of-session special — an election-year favor to unions, brokered on the leadership level in both houses. It passed 57-2 in the Senate and 132-2 in the Assembly just before they adjourned in June. (Among those supporting the bill were all 42 of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus members present for the votes.)

So what's the point of all this protesting, of all this noise, when the system continues to produce bodies and the leaders who help keep it going can also hold onto power by claiming to be against it? And what's it say when their claim is given more credence because of the color of their skin?

Now it's up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) to decide whether this bill becomes law. Progressives who claim to be concerned about police violence haven't appeared to notice the issue. Will Cuomo's party affiliation protect him if he signs it? It would've been a no-brainer for him to sign it just a few months ago and it may yet prove to be.