Yesterday, just shy of a month after Eric Garner was choked to death by an NYPD officer on Staten Island, Mayor Bill de Blasio sent a message to New Yorkers, in the event that they come into contact with the cops sometime soon: stop resisting.
"When a police officer comes to the decision that it's time to arrest someone, that individual is obligated to submit to arrest," de Blasio said at an event marking the expansion of an anti-gun initiative. "They will then have every opportunity for due process in our court system."
The mayor, the New York Post notes, was commenting on a remark police commissioner Bill Bratton made on The Brian Lehrer Show earlier this week: "What we're seeing . . . over the last several months [is] a number of individuals just failing to understand that you must submit to an arrest, that you cannot resist it. The place to argue your case is in court, not in the middle of the street."
The drum gets beaten whenever there's a high-profile case of police violence: Let the cops do their job, and everything will be OK. Mike Brown struggled with cops, police in Ferguson, Missouri say, and maybe he'd be alive today if he hadn't. (Witnesses tell a different story.) The LAPD claims that Ezell Ford, the latest black man to be gunned down by the cops, was resisting too. (One observer said Ford was lying on the ground, complying with orders, when police unloaded multiple bullets into his body.)
But this line of argument places blame for police violence on its victims, not its perpetrators. If Eric Garner had only owned up to the loosies he was allegedly selling and put his hands behind his back, it says, he wouldn't have died. But what about the mentally ill man EMTs said they had to physically protect from Brooklyn cops who were beating him senseless as he lie handcuffed to a stretcher, physically incapable of resistance? Or Tamon Robinson, who was killed after an NYPD cruiser ran him over because he picked up a few rocks. Or Ehud Halevi, a homeless man who was brutally beaten, nightsticked, and pepper-sprayed—then charged with assaulting a police officer—for sleeping in a Crown Heights cultural center where he'd been given permission to sleep?
What about Ramarley Graham, the unarmed teenager who NYPD cops shot and killed in front of his grandmother, inside of his own house?
Every one of these men, save Ehud Halevi, is black. "Stop resisting. Due process will be served," as if a black person in New York, or Ferguson, or Los Angeles, has any reason to believe that it will be. As if an arrest is a walk in the park, and if you're innocent, you'll be able to laugh it off like Nate Silver did.
Is it in your best interests to resist arrest? Almost never. Should you do it? Probably not. But for de Blasio and Bratton to issue a call like this, at a time like this—after Garner's death, as cops tear-gas journalists and initiate violence with protesters 1,000 miles away in Ferguson—displays a certain tone-deafness and unwillingness to engage with the real issue.
After Bratton and Al Sharpton gave vastly different public remarks regarding Garner's death, veteran New York police reporter Murray Weiss published an anonymously-sourced report claiming de Blasio would rather remove Bratton from his position as commissioner than lose Sharpton's support, and by extension, that of the "constituency that catapulted him into City Hall." The voters who elected the mayor—on a platform of police reform—surely felt some temporary relief at this refutation of the top cop.
Yesterday brought de Blasio's outraged response: "I have a high-pain threshold when it comes to untruths being told in print, but this is ludicrous. It's inappropriate. It's idiotic. I don't know how many times I've said we have the finest police leader in the Untied States. And I believe that in my heart. I think Bill Bratton is doing an extraordinary job."
[Image via AP]