New Yorkers can count themselves lucky that one of the few pieces of advice Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t take from his closest advisor—as he calls his wife, Chirlane McCray, whom he met as a fellow staffer in the failed administration of Mayor David Dinkins—was her insistence that he not appoint William J. Bratton police commissioner. She evidently guessed that the consummately skillful Bratton would find a way to fulfill the mayor’s chief campaign promise—to cut radically the number of police stop-and-frisks of those who look like they might have evil-doing in mind—while nevertheless keeping enough pressure on likely malefactors to keep pushing down the city’s violent crime rate.
Feeling that she “didn’t belong” as the only black girl in a New England high school and later at Wellesley, McCray exudes racial grievance. She evidently believes, like Michelle Obama, that despite over a half-century’s dramatic effort to stigmatize and eradicate racism, America is still reflexively racist at heart. What else, in her view, can explain the disproportionate numbers of black Americans in prison or stopped and questioned by cops? And the six-foot-five white mayor clearly shares her grievance, telling the press how he has cautioned his mixed-race children about interacting with policemen—with the clear implication that cops are racists looking for any possible excuse to harass black people.
Left out of this worldview is the fact that blacks commit crimes disproportionately: nationally, blacks—only 12 percent of the population—commit murder at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. In New York, African-Americans, 23 percent of the population, commit 75 percent of the city’s shootings, 70 percent of its robberies, and two thirds of all its violent crimes put together. But the rate at which black New Yorkers got stopped and frisked in the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, de Blasio’s predecessor, was lower than the rate at which victims and witnesses identified perpetrators as black. The disproportion in stops, in other words, runs in favor of blacks, not against them.
Also left out of de Blasio-style racial grievance is that the overwhelming majority of victims of these crimes are black. And here is a debt that black New Yorkers especially owe to Bratton. During his first tour of duty as NYPD commissioner, he instituted a computerized crime-mapping system, in order to put cops where crime tended to happen, at the times it occurred. Bratton’s computer was color-blind: a crime was a crime, regardless of the race of the victim or perpetrator. So, by contrast with the old, lackadaisical, truly racist ethic of policing—namely, as long as crime stays in the ghetto, ignore it—Bratton’s policing revolution treated blacks as full citizens, deserving of the fundamental protection that is society’s first duty. That revolution not only saved thousands and thousands of black lives, which now really did matter to the NYPD, but it also allowed civil society to come back to life in the inner city. Kids could play in the street, neighbors could socialize on the sidewalk, and people didn’t have to put their kids to bed in the bathtub to shield them from the danger of stray bullets.
Under Mayor Bloomberg, police commissioner Raymond Kelly kept the public-safety revolution going, until felonies had dropped 80 percent from their pre-Bratton high. When Bratton returned to the department’s helm under de Blasio, he had honed even more finely his superb political and public relations skills as chief of police for seven years in highly racialized Los Angeles, where he cut crime by 54 percent and left with the approval of four out of five black and Latino Angelinos. So not only did he know how to police effectively, but he knew how to do it without ruffling feathers.
De Blasio wanted fewer stop and frisks? Fine. Bratton would use the quality-of-life enforcement he had first developed as head of the New York Transit Police in the early 1990s and refined as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s police commissioner later that decade. He learned that if cops stop and question people committing such “minor,” supposedly “victimless” offenses as fare beating, public urination or drunkenness, graffiti vandalism, small-scale marijuana dealing, or aggressive panhandling, they’d find that these petty criminals were often wanted for major crimes. What’s more, they’d provide useful intelligence about other criminal activity. Most important, the visible, active presence of police on the job made clear that the forces of order were in charge, dissuading the ill-intentioned from thinking they could get away with . . . well, murder. During Bratton’s first stint as NYPD commissioner, major crime in Gotham dropped by two-thirds.
But a quarter century has passed since New York had one murder every four hours. Few New Yorkers are old enough—or, since this is a city of newcomers, have been here long enough—to remember the Gotham dystopia of Taxi Driver or Mr. Sammler’s Planet in the pre-Giuliani/Bratton years, with its potholed streets, armies of bums, ever-present fear, and graffiti-covered subways, mailboxes, and buildings. They take safety for granted. They don’t understand that New York was once a decaying city, from which 1 million people fled in the 1970s and eighties. They can’t believe that human effort and intelligent social policy turned it back into the glittering world-metropolis they see now, where townhouses costing $65,000 25 years ago sell for $6.5 million today, and glittering skyscrapers have shot up just because it is safe to walk the streets, go to the theater or to a fancy restaurant, and shop until you drop—from fatigue, not bullets. And they can’t imagine that race relations were once as poisonous here as they now are in Chicago. How could there be racial amity when justified suspicion and justified fear filled so many hearts? Even Jesse Jackson once confessed to relief at discovering that footsteps behind him on a dark street belonged to a white rather than a black youth.
Consequently, young and recently arrived New Yorkers fell for the racially charged, anti-police rhetoric of de Blasio and a resurrected Al Sharpton, or the race obsessed Barack Obama and his attorneys general Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch. They fell for the George Soros-funded Black Lives Matter movement, as if the NYPD didn’t know that glaringly obvious truth better than they. The New York City Council, as clueless about urban realities as de Blasio, jumped on the anti-cop bandwagon and began threatening to take away the NYPD’s authority to intervene in quality-of-life crimes, though Bratton managed to keep their damaging meddling to a minimum.
Imagine the emotional cost of trying to keep your boss, the mayor, happy by carrying out his benighted pledge to cut stop and frisks drastically, while having to figure out work-arounds to do the job of keeping New Yorkers safe, as Bratton was so determined to do. Imagine how disheartening to have the mayor publicly demean your officers and give in to the federal government’s slanderous but ultimately successful effort to tar the whole NYPD as racist, while having to buck up police morale without seeming insubordinate to the mayor. Imagine watching as the left-wing political establishment gave so much credibility to the Black Lives Matter demonstrators as to give the psychopaths who abound in any society a focus, almost a justification, for their uncontainable rage, so that they began assassinating your blue-uniformed troops. Imagine the heart-sinking feeling at finding police corruption that, while far from as horrible as past scandals, had the unusual distinction of tarring some of Bratton’s top deputies and splattering even the scandal-plagued mayor himself. Even for the uniquely talented Bratton, that was a knife-edge balancing act, and you could see the strain of it on his face ever more plainly after he started working for de Blasio a little more than two-and-a-half years ago. He had said he wouldn’t serve a second term under de Blasio, and it’s no surprise that he announced this week that he will quit his post for a high-paying private-sector job.
All New Yorkers, whether they know it or not, owe him an incalculable debt of gratitude for saving the city under Giuliani and for keeping de Blasio from ruining it grievously with his racialist, anti-cop worldview. Bratton is proof positive that the world is not governed by blind forces, but that one determined man can change it magically. How I wish that a man of his strength of character, courage, realism, and skill would run for mayor next time around!
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images