Nothing New: The Last Time An NYC Mayor Tried To Rein In NYPD, Cops Rioted

As the body of one of the police officers killed in an ambush was laid to rest, hundreds of officers co-opted the moment and attempted to turn it into a publicity stunt. Urged on by their union bosses, officers both inside the church and standing outside turned their backs on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as he spoke at the funeral.

His crime? The “disrespect” he showed the cops by giving his biracial teenage son the “talk” about how to be extra careful when dealing with cops, because racism still exists and black men are disproportionately victims of it. de Blasio said:

This is profoundly personal for me. I was at the White House the other day, and the president of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said, I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens. I said to him I did. Because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years, about the dangers he may face. A good young man, a law-abiding young man, who would never think to do anything wrong, and yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers 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 the police officers who are there to protect him.

Where exactly is the offense here? It’s hard to say. But that lack of clarity hasn’t prevented the NY police union from seizing on the remarks with vicious abandon and explicitly used to accuse de Blasio of being personally responsible for the deaths of two police officers at the hands of a person who was, by all accounts, mentally unstable.

It’s easy to think that this is as low as it gets. A mayor trying to protect the citizens of his city, while still honoring the officers who do their jobs with integrity and good faith is demonized in barely coherent politically motivated smear campaigns. That’s the bottom of the barrel. But sadly, it’s happened before. The similarities are uncanny.

In 1992, after a spate of officer-related shootings plagued the city, New Yorkers had reached a similar breaking point. In an effort to rein in the police and halt the growing divide between cops and citizens, then-mayor David Dinkins (notably, New York City’s first and only black mayor) commissioned a civilian oversight agency that would be tasked with looking into police misconduct in an impartial manner. The police, who surely claimed they had nothing to hide, rioted. Literally. They took to the streets as a mob, while the on-duty officers charged with keeping them in check looked on with amusement.

The New York Times covered the event at the time, and the details are surreal.

Thousands of off-duty police officers thronged around City Hall yesterday, swarming through police barricades to rally on the steps of the hall and blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge for nearly an hour in the most unruly and angry police demonstration in recent memory.

The 300 uniformed officers who were supposed to control the crowd did little or nothing to stop the protesters from jumping barricades, tramping on automobiles, mobbing the steps of City Hall or taking over the bridge. In some cases, the on-duty officers encouraged the protesters.

While the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association had called the rally to protest Mayor David N. Dinkins’s proposal to create an independent civilian agency that would look into police misconduct, the huge turnout — estimated by the Police Department at 10,000 protesters — and the harsh emotional pitch reflected widespread anger among rank-and-file officers toward the Mayor for his handling of riots against the police in Washington Heights last July, his refusal to give them semiautomatic weapons and his appointment of an outside panel to investigate corruption.

“He never supports us on anything,” said Officer Tara Fanning of the Midtown South Precinct, echoing the view of many in the crowd. “A cop shoots someone with a gun who’s a drug dealer, and he goes and visits the family.”

It was an embarrassing moment for the NYPD, but also the city itself. Dinkins said the actions were “bordering on holliganism.” The ringleader behind the police protests? A opportunistic race-baiter named Rudy Giuliani, the Republican candidate who was trying to (and eventually, successful in) unseat Dinkins as New York mayor. He riled up officers to seize the “cop vote” and the gamble paid off – at the expense of solving problems that still plague the city today.

The 1992 cop riot speaks to how short a memory the NYPD has. They had no problem shutting down city streets, smashing cars, and disrupting City Hall when it suited their needs. Now they attempt to call the Black Lives Matter protesters criminals and cop-killers. The hypocrisy is palpable.

It also suggests the stunningly thin skin the NYPD has. In their view, their actions are above reproach. Any effort to prevent them from using unnecessary force or stem the killing of suspects is met with fierce defensiveness. The mock-outrage, the publicity stunts and backs being turned, do a disservice to cops around the country who want to do a good job and serve their community with honor. Pretending that cops, regardless of circumstance, should be placed on an alter and any scrutiny is “anti-cop” is pathetic and demeaning. Cops deserve better, Bill de Blasio deserves better, and New Yorkers especially deserve better.


Feature image courtesy PIX11