As the outrage winds have swirled around the NYPD's decision to turn their backs to Bill De Blasio at the funeral of murdered officer Rafael Ramos, some in the police force's corner have been compelled to bend in the other direction. This weekend, both NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton and semi-professional police state spokesperson Rudy Giulinai distanced themselves from the police protest, with Bratton calling the demonstration "inappropriate." They are right, but for the wrong reasons.
Both Bratton and Giuliani made political statements that are meant to stamp out the controversy ignited by the protest while still being careful not to undercut the NYPD's message. In agreeing with people aghast at the NYPD's decision to politicize a funeral—people like the New York Times editorial board, who think the NYPD acted childish and immature—Bratton and Guiliani have found the point at which they can thread the needle. But taking issue with the mere protest, and not why the NYPD protested in the first place, is to miss the point—and, for progressives, to cede ground to the type of people who want to see civil demonstrations snuffed out entirely.
If we are to agree with Bratton and Giuliani that the NYPD was wrong to use a funeral to protest, we then must admit that funerals are hallowed ground where protests or political statements should never be made. Generally speaking, this is a decent rule of thumb, especially because America's main association with funeral demonstrations is Westboro Baptist Church, who have built up notoriety by hijacking high-profile funerals in order to "protest" against homosexuality. Nonetheless, Westboro picketing military funerals is a free speech issue, and the group's right to do so has been appropriately affirmed by the Supreme Court.
Defending the NYPD and Westboro sucks, but it's necessary in order to protect our ability to defend ourselves in the future. Isn't it possible, that at some point, we may want—or need—to use a funeral as a place of protest? Why would we agree with people like Bratton and Giuliani, who have a vested interest in the quieting of social disruption? I, too, was grossed out by the NYPD turning their backs to de Blasio, but I don't have to stretch my imagination to think of situations where I would applaud a group of people staging a demonstration at a funeral. To draw a line between protests and funerals is to relinquish a potentially powerful tool in the bag of an active and vocal citizenry.
In this instance, the discussion about the police protest—the politicization of the politicization—is distracting from the actual disgusting part of the ordeal: what spurred the NYPD to turn their backs in the first place. The NYPD chose to make a grand statement against their mayor at the funeral of a comrade because the mayor admitted, in the aftermath of the death of Eric Garner, that he had the gall to tell his black son to be careful around cops.
This admission was, by far, the most relatable and agreeable moment of de Blasio's short tenure as mayor of New York City. This was him doing what we want our politicians to do: to stand with us, to understand, articulate and endorse our points of view. This is why de Blasio–a staunch liberal—was elected, and in that moment he delivered on the promise of his mayorship.
That is what the NYPD were turning their backs on. Protesting at a funeral is defensible; making a grand gesture of intimidation against a politician's, and a city's, humanity is not.
[image via Getty]