The NYPD's Work Stoppage Is Surreal
The NYPD's Work Stoppage Is Surreal
By Matt Taibbi /
In an alternate universe, the New York Police might have just solved the national community-policing controversy.

Brace yourselves for a weird night. There might be a little extra drama when the ball drops in Times Square, thanks to one of the more confusing political protests in recent memory.

On a night when more than a million potentially lawbreaking, probably tipsy revelers will be crowding the most densely-populated city blocks in America, all eyes will be on the city cops stuck with holiday duty.

Why? Because the New York City Police are in the middle of a slowdown. The New York Post is going so far as to call it a "virtual work stoppage."

Furious at embattled mayor Bill de Blasio, and at what Police Benevolent Association chief Patrick Lynch calls a "hostile anti-police environment in the city," the local officers are simply refusing to arrest or ticket people for minor offenses – such arrests have dropped off a staggering 94 percent, with overall arrests plunging 66 percent.

If you're wondering exactly what that means, the Post is reporting that the protesting police have decided to make arrests "only when they have to." (Let that sink in for a moment. Seriously, take 10 or 15 seconds).

Substantively that mostly means a steep drop-off in parking tickets, but also a major drop in tickets for quality-of-life offenses like carrying open containers of alcohol or public urination.

My first response to this news was confusion. I get why the police are protesting – they're pissed at Mayor de Blasio, and more on that in a minute – but this sort of "protest" pulls this story out of the standard left-right culture war script it had been following and into surreal territory.

I don't know any police officer anywhere who would refuse to arrest a truly dangerous criminal as part of a PBA-led political gambit. So the essence of this protest seems now to be about trying to hit de Blasio where it hurts, i.e. in the budget, without actually endangering the public.

So this police protest, unwittingly, is leading to the exposure of the very policies that anger so many different constituencies about modern law-enforcement tactics.

First, it shines a light on the use of police officers to make up for tax shortfalls using ticket and citation revenue. Then there's the related (and significantly more important) issue of forcing police to make thousands of arrests and issue hundreds of thousands of summonses when they don't "have to."

It's incredibly ironic that the police have chosen to abandon quality-of-life actions like public urination tickets and open-container violations, because it's precisely these types of interactions that are at the heart of the Broken Windows polices that so infuriate residents of so-called "hot spot" neighborhoods.

In an alternate universe where this pseudo-strike wasn't the latest sortie in a standard-issue right-versus left political showdown, one could imagine this protest as a progressive or even a libertarian strike, in which police refused to work as backdoor tax-collectors and/or implement Minority Report-style pre-emptive policing policies, which is what a lot of these Broken Windows-type arrests amount to.

But that's not what's going on here. As far as I can tell, there's nothing enlightened about this slowdown, although I'm sure there are thousands of cops who are more than happy to get a break from Broken Windows policing.

I've met more than a few police in the last few years who've complained vigorously about things like the "empty the pad" policies in some precincts, where officers were/are told by superiors to fill predetermined summons quotas every month.

It would be amazing if this NYPD protest somehow brought parties on all sides to a place where we could all agree that policing should just go back to a policy of officers arresting people "when they have to."

Because it's wrong to put law enforcement in the position of having to make up for budget shortfalls with parking tickets, and it's even more wrong to ask its officers to soak already cash-strapped residents of hot spot neighborhoods with mountains of summonses as part of a some stats-based crime-reduction strategy.

Both policies make people pissed off at police for the most basic and understandable of reasons: if you're running into one, there's a pretty good chance you're going to end up opening your wallet.

Your average summons for a QOL offense costs more than an ordinary working person makes in a day driving a bus, waiting tables, or sweeping floors. So every time you nail somebody, you're literally ruining their whole day.

If I were a police officer, I'd hate to be taking money from people all day long, too. Christ, that's worse than being a dentist. So under normal circumstances, this slowdown wouldn't just make sense, it would be heroic.

Unfortunately, this protest is not about police refusing to shake people down for money on principle.

For one thing, it's simply another public union using its essential services leverage to hold the executive (and by extension, the taxpayer) hostage in a negotiation. In this case the public union doesn't want higher pay or better benefits (in which case it wouldn't have the support from the political right it has now – just the opposite), it merely wants "support" from the Mayor.

On another level, however, this is just the latest salvo in an ongoing and increasingly vicious culture-war mess that is showing no signs of abating.

Most everyone across the country knows the background by now. The police in New York are justifiably furious about the Saturday, December 20th ambush murder/assassination of two of their officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, at the hands of a rampage-killer from Baltimore named Ismaaiyl Brinsley.

Brinsley, who shot his girlfriend and promised on Instagram to put "wings on pigs" before coming to New York and doing the evil deed, had cited the killing of Eric Garner in his rants, saying among other things, "They took 1 of ours…let's take 2 of theirs."

According to the transitive theory of culpability so popular in our left-right media echo chamber, Brinsley's monstrous act put de Blasio in the political jackpot, since both had expressed dismay about the death of Garner, an African-American man from Staten Island who died this past summer in a struggle with police over a 75-cent cigarette.

De Blasio of course never urged anyone to put "wings on pigs." And his comment about the actual grand jury decision – that it was something "many in our city did not want" – was really just a simple statement of fact.

But de Blasio also clumsily personalized the incident, talking about his own half-black son Dante, saying that he and his wife Chirlane had had to "talk to Dante. . .about the dangers that he may face." Then he added, "It should be self-evident, but our history requires us to say that black lives matter."

As maximally uncontroversial as that sounds, the local tabloids went nuts over de Blasio's remarks, bashing the boss of the nation's biggest police force for quoting a globally-surging protest hashtag and talking about how he has to teach his own son to be wary of police.

And then Ramos and Liu were murdered in a horrible tragedy that will have lasting implications for people on all sides of the political spectrum.

The thing is, there are really two things going on here. One is an ongoing bitter argument about race and blame that won't be resolved in this country anytime soon, if ever. Dig a millimeter under the surface of the Garner case, Ferguson, the Liu-Ramos murders, and you'll find vicious race-soaked debates about who's to blame for urban poverty, black crime, police violence, immigration, overloaded prisons and a dozen other nightmare issues.

But the other thing is a highly specific debate over a very resolvable controversy not about police as people, but about how police are deployed. Most people, and police most of all, agree that the best use of police officers is police work. They shouldn't be collecting backdoor taxes because politicians are too cowardly to raise them, and they shouldn't be pre-emptively busting people in poor neighborhoods because voters don't have the patience to figure out some other way to deal with our dying cities.

This police protest, ironically, could have shined a light on all of that. Instead, it's just more fodder for our ongoing hate-a-thon. Happy New Year, America.

4.0 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
F*ck That: A Guided Meditation for the Realities of Today's World
2 min · 12,673 views today · Just acknowledge that all that sh*t is f*cking b*llshit — you're here now, in this place, with your inner stillness. Take in a deep breath ... now breathe out. Just feel the...
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 7,102 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 6,485 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Who I'm Voting For...
3 min · 6,171 views today · Prince Ea announces who he's voting for. It's probably not who you think.
Free Trade Explained In An Excellent Comic
Michael Goodwin, Illustrated by Dan E. Burr · 5,787 views today · The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) are the latest in a long line...
Open Up - Have the Difficult But Important Conversations With Loved Ones
5 min · 3,296 views today · “The biggest casualty of humanity is the lack of communication, it’s the thing that breaks most relationships. It just feels so much better to talk and get it out.” There is...
25 Mind-Twisting Optical Illusion Paintings by Rob Gonsalves
Dovas · 2,328 views today · The beautiful and mind-bending illusions in Canadian artist Robert Gonsalves’ paintings have a fun way of twisting your perception and causing you to question what in his...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,707 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Forget Shorter Showers: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change (2015)
11 min · 1,667 views today · Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday; or that chopping...
#Hypernormalisation - Why Heathrow Plan Is Proof We Exist in a Catastrophic Fantasyland
Matthew Adams · 1,569 views today · The British government recently gave the green light for Heathrow airport’s third runway. It was heralded by its supporters as a vital boost for jobs and growth – and proof...
'Maritime Graveyard': 2016 Deadliest Year Ever for Refugees Crossing Mediterranean
Deirdre Fulton · 1,558 views today · "From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiraled to one in 88," says UNHCR spokesman
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 1,497 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 1,112 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
The Empire Vs. The People - Police Attack and Arrest Peaceful Protestors at the Dakota Access Pipeline
6 min · 1,007 views today · On October 22, just before dawn, hundreds of people, including many families, gathered and prepared to march toward the Dakota Access pipeline construction site near Standing...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 708 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Ode to Lesvos
5 min · 677 views today · An inspiring story of a few remarkable heroes on the Island of Lesvos who helped almost half a million refugees in 2015 has been documented in a new short film called Ode to...
The Burden of the New Story
Adebayo Akomolafe · 626 views today · The 'new story' - that longed for milieu when all is right with the world and things are set straight - seems to be taking its sweet time coming. Why?
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 450 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 418 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 384 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
The NYPD's Work Stoppage Is Surreal