Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

De Blasio is Winning, But We’re Not (At least not yet)

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So first–the good news. There is dissension in the ranks of NYPD. It seems that PBA head Pat Lynch went too far, and a not insubstantial portion of the PBA membership has been pushing back. News of a contentious meeting, with much yelling and pushing and shoving, showed the cracks within the PBA. Perhaps because of this, Lynch backed off his call for the mayor to apologize, although I think some people are overinterpreting his changed position:

“Despite statements to the contrary, our demands have never been for a simple apology, but for clear and unequivocal expressions of support for our members and an equally strong condemnation of those who have stirred up hatred and violence towards police officers,” he wrote [in an internal memo].

“We have also demanded that these words be backed up by concrete actions to hold anti-police agitators accountable and to protect our members from further attacks.”

In the same memo, Lynch took credit for what he called a “shift in the mayor’s tone.” Still, this is being framed as a defeat for Lynch, and despite the fact that he hasn’t changed that much, it’s not an unreasonable conclusion. The memo, as the New York Daily News noted, came a day after a poll of NYC voters showed Lynch with an 18% approval rating.

Given De Blasio’s reputation as a progressive, and the fact that his campaign highlighted criticism of stop and frisk, it’s easy to see this as a victory for Black Lives Matter movement, as a step towards less punitive and racially discriminatory policing. But that would be a mistake.

De Blasio, let’s remember, hired Bill Bratton, a key architect of Broken Windows policing, as police commissioner, and while stop and frisks have continued to drop (something that started under his predecessor), Broken Windows remains policy. As I discussed in my last post, the controversy over the slow down involved officers doing standard police work while refusing to engage in Broken Windows policing, leading many erstwhile critics of NYPD to call for a return to the very work being criticized. De Blasio also recently issued a veto threat against a bill that would make choke holds, already against NYPD policy, illegal. This despite a recent study by the NYPD Inspector General that found choke holds were used at an “alarming” rate. Remember that Eric Garner was killed because police alleged he was engaged in selling loosies (Broken Windows policing) and then applied a choke hold.

What De Blasio has done is express remorse over the unjustified death of an unarmed black man, as well as note that he has spoken with his son about being careful in his interactions with the police. These are nice sentiments. What he hasn’t done is taken a stand against the core of the problem, and the hiring of Bratton and his actions while in office if anything suggest he is a strong defender of the status quo.

Looking for the “good guy” in a conflict, and supporting him or her, or perhaps more accurately, looking for a “bad guy” and assuming the other party is “good,” is not a very useful way to understand politics. Neither is desperately searching for evidence that you have won so that you can stand down.

I’ve discussed before the unfortunate desire to win without a fight, to assume that a small victory is not a stepping stone but a destination.

The inclination to declare premature victory seems to me a common affliction, as evidenced by the responses to the election of Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren and Bill De Blasio. Another example is the victory laps taken in response to a small number of members of Congress embracing ideas like Social Security expansion or postal banking. Celebrating steps along the way is essential, but too often it seems like the first steps are treated as evidence of a changed game

People love the idea of winning without a fight. You see that in the hope of many Democrats that the Republicans will be so extreme that voters will reject them without Democrats having to take a stand on anything. You see it in their insistence that demographic changes will lead to the demise of the Republican Party, despite the fact that those demographics are malleable and a product of politics. You see it when people offer charts and stats alone as if bare facts ever convinced anyone of anything, or their efforts to argue in favor of (mildly) liberal ends from conservative starting points. You see it in the efforts to avoid taking stances that conservatives will oppose (as if they won’t move to oppose what ever previously reasonable position liberals take.) You see it in the simultaneous claim that the ACA is a great success and a frustration its opponents are still pushing back.

What about the dissenting members of the NYPD? Well according to reports, they were upset that Lynch emphasized an apology from De Blasio over more equipment and more cops. Never mind that the police are already over-militarized and that we have too many cops. They blamed Lynch for calling for the slow down (which as I have argued, was good) and for caving by ending it when Bratton put pressure on officers to return to Broken Windows policing.

This all confirms what I said in my last post: the NYPD will not reform itself. Elite politicians will not do our work for us. They may change what they say, or their tone. They might adopt the legitimation of ‘community policing’ as opposed to ‘Broken Windows.’ There may be some policy change. What there won’t be, absent more significant and continued push back, is the sort of fundamental shift in policing (at least) that’s required.

The answer is a mass movement. That requires independence from public officials and a willingness to press them, even when they say the right things, have the right enemies. and claim to be allies. It requires making them loath and fear us.

Written by David Kaib

January 19, 2015 at 1:59 pm

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