Severe winter weather has put a chill on the simmering battle between New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD. But if the mayor’s remarks this week on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show are any indication, get ready for a spring offensive.
Appearing loose and ready to laugh before a friendly audience, the mayor fielded a videotaped question from an African-American New Yorker who wanted to know, “How are you addressing the problems between blacks and the police?” Host Larry Wilmore followed up by noting that de Blasio had been criticized for his claim to have “trained” his biracial son, Dante, to be wary of cops. “What is your relationship right now with the police,” Wilmore asked. “How’s that beef?”
A better opportunity couldn’t have presented itself for de Blasio to undo the damage caused by his claims that “centuries of racism” were behind the death of Eric Garner, the African-American man who died last year while resisting arrest. According to the Wall Street Journal, Garner had been arrested more than 30 times for assault, resisting arrest, and grand larceny, among other charges. Nevertheless, after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the cops involved, de Blasio used a press conference appearance to heap praise on Garner, calling him “a father, a husband, a son—a good man.” The mayor claimed that he and his wife worried “every night” that their son would be targeted by cops. “Is my child safe?,” he said. “Are [kids like Dante] safe from the very people they want to have faith in as their protectors?”
The remarks inflamed cops, who saw them as a both a racial smear and a betrayal of the good men and women of the NYPD responsible for bringing crime in the once “ungovernable” city to historic lows. When, a week after that press conference, Ismaaiyl Brinsley murdered NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos as they sat in their parked police cruiser, the blowback against de Blasio was swift. Some said he had allowed an atmosphere to develop that encouraged protesters to attack police officers. Former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly accused de Blasio of having won office on an “anti-cop campaign.” Uniformed police turned their backs on the mayor at the hospital where the murdered officers’ bodies were taken and again, weeks later, at their respective funerals.
Rank-and-file cops—and many in the press—demanded an apology. A grim-faced de Blasio refused, but pledged to repair the relationship. “I think the people of this city want us all to move forward,” he said in January. “I think they want us to be mature adults and sit down and resolve differences and move forward and my door is open.”
Have the cops forgiven de Blasio for his role in last year’s unpleasantness? If so, it hasn’t been reported on. But if the tenor of Monday’s television appearance is any indication, de Blasio is confident that he’s weathered the storm. Why else would he blithely repeat his claim that Dante needs to be careful around cops? He could have sloughed off Wilmore’s question with a politician’s non-response. “Things are better now than they were, Larry,” he could have said. “We’re still not there yet, and I bear some of the responsibility for that, but I’m still committed to repairing the relationship.”
Instead, de Blasio opted to double-down on his “fundamental belief” that the NYPD arrests young black kids like Dante not because African-Americans commit the majority of crimes in New York City, but because of police racism.
Mayor de Blasio still owes the NYPD an apology. If it’s not forthcoming, the least he could do is avoid opening old wounds. Unless, of course, the mayor—who the New York Times says is “becoming a fixture on the television landscape”—sees some national political advantage in reviving his war with the cops. Stay tuned. We’re bound to find out.