I Rise in Defense of the NYPD

 

5883814212_149137215f_zMany on the right — including some of my colleagues on Ricochet — have taken up the theme that Eric Garner died because he committed “a tax crime.”

I’m not sure whether to call this line tendentious obfuscation or opportunistic grandstanding. But it’s got to be one of those things. Maybe both.

Saying Garner died because of a tax crime is a bit like saying John Lennon was killed because he decided to pick up a guitar: technically correct, but devoid of context.

Eric Garner died as a direct result of his decision to resist arrest. The use of a chokehold on a suspect is banned by the NYPD patrol guide, but not illegal for an officer of the law in New York State. So while the cop who choked Garner will surely lose his job, there were no grounds to indict him for a criminal act. The law grants cops wide latitude in the performance of their daily duties, which often result in unexpected or unavoidable violence. Maybe the violence here was avoidable, but that’s a different argument — though a more honest one — than saying he died because of a tax crime.

Many on the right, I know, see the Garner case as just another example of militaristic cops gone wild.

That’s nuts.

This business about tax crimes and militarized police obscures a central fact about recent New York history: 25 years ago, cops looked the other way for so-called petty crimes like selling loose cigarettes, urinating in public, and smoking weed in the park. I know these are theoretically victimless crimes. I know there are some libertarians who think such things should not be considered crimes.

Well, here in New York, we’ve seen that movie. Twenty-five years ago, you could walk down the street in midtown Manhattan smoking a joint and the cops wouldn’t lift a finger. To some, I know, that sounds like paradise. For most New Yorkers — and visitors — it was hell.

Twenty-five years ago the NYPD left certain neighborhoods alone. They were too much trouble to police. The risk of getting into an avoidable altercation with a thug was just not worth it.

And do you know what happened? The thugs and petty criminals went on to terrorize their own neighborhoods. Good people in bad neighborhoods stayed indoors. Tourists from Utah got stabbed and killed on the subway. Smart people stayed out of Central Park after nightfall. The beating heart of the world’s great city became a cesspool of vice and violence.

Those so-called victimless crimes did in fact have a victim: the civic life of the city. Watch Taxi Driver. It was real. It happened. And not by accident.

It happened because disingenuous politicians and rabble-rousing mouthpieces said just what many are saying now: the police are the problem and need to be reined in. Until poverty — today we call it “inequality” — is solved, they say, there’s nothing the police can do anyway. Somebody make these racist cops stand down, they said.

That’s the way it was 25 years ago. Former New York Post editorial page editor Bob McManus called it the age of the “permanent panhandler.” In Bob’s neighborhood, the guy’s name was Tony. He was vaguely menacing, and the cops wanted no part of him.

Things reached their lowest point in the late 1980s. It wasn’t so much that nobody wanted to restore order as it was that nobody knew how to. The politicians were ineffective. The NYPD itself was a big part of the problem. Its leaders had no blueprint for dealing with disorder and its rank-and-file had no appetite for engaging the disorderly.

Ah, the good old days.

But then something changed. Some policy makers came along with a different message: let’s allow the police do their jobs. Let them arrest the bad guys, even for so-called petty crimes — especially for so-called petty crimes — and let them protect the good people of New York City, even those who lived in bad neighborhoods, from aggressive and lawless predators.

I’m not saying Eric Garner was a predator. I’m saying that the police could not have let him off the hook for the crime that they say he committed. Garner could have argued his innocence in court, yes, and the police would have had to prove his guilt, yes. But the cops that day could not have turned a blind eye to his crime, no matter how petty it seems in retrospect.

Former cop Ernie Naspretto in today’s Daily News:

The public has every right to question why Eric Garner died while being arrested, particularly for such a minor infraction. But once a police officer determines an arrest is warranted, he can’t change his mind and not arrest someone simply because the infraction is minor and the individual doesn’t want to go.

Let’s put another myth to rest: The NYPD does not prey on black people. The cops in New York City go where the crime is. My City Journal colleague Heather Mac Donald, analyzing media distortions about crime and race in 2010:

You cannot properly analyze police behavior without analyzing crime. Crime is what drives NYPD tactics; it is the basis of everything the department does. And crime, as reported by victims and witnesses, sends police overwhelmingly to minority neighborhoods, because that’s where the vast majority of crime occurs—by minority criminals against minority victims.

The NYPD is not a militarized, steroidal junior varsity SEAL team. On the contrary, the NYPD’s broken windows policing philosophy is the reason why crime has fallen to historic lows and made New York the safest large city in America. The NYPD is the reason why a Norwegian can come to Brooklyn and open a “cozy and cluttered bakery that makes its own bread, simmers its own jam and even churns its own butter” just a few blocks from the once-gritty waterfront in Greenpoint. The NYPD is the reason that Times Square is a safe place for you and your family to visit and see a show.

It doesn’t have to be this way. New York can easily revert to what it was. In fact, a lot of New Yorkers don’t like what the city has become. Many are eager to see the broken windows philosophy discredited and tossed aside like an old shoe.

How long would it take to undo the progress of the last 25 years?

If things go on like this, we’ll soon find out.

Image Credit: Flickr user Debra.

There are 58 comments.

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  1. Butters Inactive
    Butters
    @CommodoreBTC

    Matthew Hennessey:Those so-called victimless crimes did in fact have a victim: the civic life of the city.

    What “so-called victimless crimes” are you referring to?

    • #1
  2. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    While I agree there’s a lot of rhetorical chaff in how this case has been presented, I think you’re ignoring the wheat:

    Matthew Hennessey: Eric Garner died as a direct result of his decision to resist arrest. The use of a chokehold on a suspect is banned by the NYPD patrol guide, but not illegal for an officer of the law in New York State. So while the cop who choked Garner will surely lose his job, there were no grounds to indict him for a criminal act…

    I’ve always thought the question is — as you put it yourself — whether the force used against Garner was justified, given the circumstances. Whether the particular move used was allowed and/or illegal is part of that question, but not all of it.

    Matthew Hennessey: I’m saying that the police could not have let him off the hook for the crime that they say he committed. Garner could have argued his innocence in court, yes, and the police would have had to prove his guilt, yes. But the cops that day could not have turned a blind eye to his crime, no matter how petty it seems in retrospect.

    Has anyone reputable argued this? Again, the question for me (and others, I think) is “Was tacking Garner from behind and putting him into a chokehold a responsible response to his verbal refusal and batting away of the officer’s hands?”

    I think Kevin Williamson nailed it when he said that the particulars “strikes me as an occasion for restraint among those doing the restraining.”

    Matthew Hennessey: Many on the right, I know, see the Garner case as just another example of militaristic cops gone wild.

    I’m sure some people do, but that’s never struck me as the right angle on this one. Rather it’s that the case seems to confirm the idea that police are granted too much deference and latitude when their actions result in injury and/or death to those they’re arresting.

    Now, this is a tricky issue. On the one hand, it’s really important for police to feel that they’re backs are covered. On the other, you risk giving them carte blanche and condoning genuine abuses.

    • #2
  3. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    Oh, poppycock!

    Going for anything between the chin and clavicles is a deadly force issue. It is why a “choke hold” is not allowed by police departments all over. Your argument is that going directly for deadly force was “reasonable”. That’s rather like saying that since Mr. Garner made some verbal “resistance” to being arrested, the officers should have simply shot him.

    I, for one, believe there were other rational ways to deal with Mr. Garner. But if arrest was the only way, it appears to me that the 5 cops there were perfectly able to arrest him without shooting him. And that’s what the choke hold is all about.

    • #3
  4. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    May the “only a minor crime” apologists for Mr. Garner be pursued through eternity by legions of squeegee men.

    • #4
  5. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Matthew Hennessey: On the contrary, the NYPD’s broken windows policing philosophy is the reason why crime has fallen to historic lows and made New York the safest large city in America.

    Broken windows is part of it, but so was Compstat, which Mac Donald has also written about extensively. I’ve no idea if there’s any way to evaluate their relative importances in turning NYC around, but I think it’s misleading to attribute all of the improvement to the former and none to the latter, especially given that the latter has been successfully exported to other jurisdictions.

    As we’re into psychoanalyzing each other, I can’t help but speculate that a lot of conservatives hone-in on the former because it touches on morality and ignore the latter because it’s just value-free empirics.

    • #5
  6. Matthew Hennessey Contributor
    Matthew Hennessey
    @MatthewHennessey

    Tom, I’m not psychoanalyzing you or anyone else.

    Compstat and broken windows go together. If you aren’t enforcing the law properly and consistently, there is no good crime data to analyze.

    • #6
  7. Butters Inactive
    Butters
    @CommodoreBTC

    We should be skeptical of the value of any law not related to violence or theft.

    • #7
  8. Matthew Hennessey Contributor
    Matthew Hennessey
    @MatthewHennessey

    Butters:

    Matthew Hennessey:Those so-called victimless crimes did in fact have a victim: the civic life of the city.

    What “so-called victimless crimes” are you referring to?

    Selling loose cigarettes, smokin’ weed, drinking on the stoop, Three-card Monte, subway spitting, &c.

    • #8
  9. Matthew Hennessey Contributor
    Matthew Hennessey
    @MatthewHennessey

    Butters:We should be skeptical of the value of any law not related to violence or theft.

    Not the cops’ job to be skeptical of the law.

    • #9
  10. user_157053 Member
    user_157053
    @DavidKnights

    Your post is a combination of straw-men and obfuscation.

    While the “tax crime” angle is an interesting one for the larger question of our proliferation of laws, the base question is; did the police use excessive force to affect an arrest.  The video clearly brings that into question.  The chokehold is part of it.  So is the officers sitting on a man who is pleading that he is unable to breathe.

    I am no bleeding heart, but the amount of force used to effectuate the arrest looks disproportionate, whether or not the arrestee ultimately died.

    Also, while I am a fan of the broken windows theory of law enforcement, I would suggest that “selling loosies” is qualitatively different than urinating in public, aggressive panhandling or vandalism via graffiti.

    • #10
  11. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    Though I understand the minor crime argument, my personal understanding has been not so much to criticize the police for enforcing a minor crime, but rather I’ve seen it as criticism for the lawmakers for micromanaging our lives to such a degree, and then seeing tax revenue as important as personal threats and property damage such that they require police officers to enforce them as such.

    Then you get Mayor de Blasio — who’s about as meddlesome as Bloomberg — wringing his hands about how scary the police are. Once again Progressives are trying to hold tea and no tea at the same time and blaming others when it doesn’t work.

    • #11
  12. Matthew Hennessey Contributor
    Matthew Hennessey
    @MatthewHennessey

    David Knights:Your post is a combination of straw-men and obfuscation.

    Thanks. That’s what I was going for.

    • #12
  13. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    Also, I appreciate the link to Heather MacDonald. From what I’ve read of her work and what we’ve seen, the problem is not the police. We have a welfare state that’s systematically destroyed the black family structure and left those communities in chaos a coupled with  meddlesome government that micromanages our lives. Eric Garner dying while resisting arrest is the tail end of social structures which will always cause conflict. A decayed community will always clash with the law, and a meddlesome law structure will ensure more clashes.

    • #13
  14. Jude Inactive
    Jude
    @Jude

    You’ve presented a false dichotomy. It is not a choice between abandoning enforcement of minor laws or manhandling people to the ground, which in this case, resulted in the death of the suspect. Reasonable people can see that there is a wide area in between those two extremes. If I were to accept that we either have to live with pan handlers or kill them all, then we have to live with them, but neither is necessary. Killing the suspect is bad policing. You don’t have to give up policing, but you do have to do it better.

    • #14
  15. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Matthew Hennessey:Tom, I’m not psychoanalyzing you or anyone else.

    Okay, so how should I read this?

    Matthew Hennessey: I’m not sure whether to call this line tendentious obfuscation or opportunistic grandstanding. But it’s got to be one of those things. Maybe both.

    • #15
  16. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy
    • Urinating in public.
    • Smoking marijuana in public.
    • Drinking alcohol in public.
    • Breaking windows.
    • Three-card monte (i.e. fraud).
    • Vandalizing property with grafitti.
    • Letting violent thugs take over neighbourhoods.
    • Selling untaxed cigarettes.

    One of these things, IMHO, is not like the others.

    • #16
  17. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Matthew Hennessey: Compstat and broken windows go together. If you aren’t enforcing the law properly and consistently, there is no good crime data to analyze.

    Broken Windows is a philosophy of emphasizing the prevention and prosecution of small crimes in order to break cycles of lawlessness. Compstat is a statistics-driven process of tracking, investigating, and preempting crimes.

    The two are complementary, but Compstat makes sense totally independent of whether or not you adopt a Broken Windows approach.

    • #17
  18. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    Misthiocracy:

    • Urinating in public.
    • Smoking marijuana in public.
    • Breaking windows.
    • Vandalizing property with grafitti.
    • Letting violent thugs take over neighbourhoods.
    • Selling untaxed cigarettes.

    One of these things, IMHO, is not like the others.

    I agree, but faulting the police for enforcing laws and regulations that the lawmakers put in place is somewhat misplaced. We can argue about use of force (and I tend to lean towards the police as it’s too easy to be an armchair quarterback in this situation), but it’s the lawmakers who place untaxed cigarettes on the same level as the others.

    • #18
  19. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    The police did not create a ticky-tacky law creating a ticky-tacky crime, the city government did. When you create a crime, you obligate the police to act when that crime is committed. If the police act, there is a finite chance that there will be resistance. If there is resistance, there is a finite chance someone will be hurt. If someone is hurt, there is a finite chance the injuries prove fatal.

    It would be interesting to find out why there were five or more cops out on loosie patrol. Was Mr. Garner suspected of something else? Did the police have reason to believe that Mr. Garner might resist? The only thing I know for sure is that the grand jury had more information than I do.

    • #19
  20. Matthew Hennessey Contributor
    Matthew Hennessey
    @MatthewHennessey

    Misthiocracy:

    • Urinating in public.
    • Smoking marijuana in public.
    • Drinking alcohol in public.
    • Breaking windows.
    • Three-card monte (i.e. fraud).
    • Vandalizing property with grafitti.
    • Letting violent thugs take over neighbourhoods.
    • Selling untaxed cigarettes.

    One of these things, IMHO, is not like the others.

    Maybe on paper that’s so, but in reality, a guy standing on a street corner selling loose cigarettes is not enhancing the quality of life on that corner and is contributing to the impression that his neighborhood is a lawless place.

    Now, someone will surely reply, “He didn’t deserve to die for it.” To which the only acceptable response is, “Of course not.” But that’s not the full story and it’s wrong to leave it there. That’s what I mean when I say “tendentious obfuscation or opportunistic grandstanding,” which Tom Meyer, Ed. interprets as psychoanalysis.

    This is not about taxes, and saying it is strikes me as opportunistic. The law is the law. If you don’t like it, change it, but don’t expect the cops not to enforce it.

    • #20
  21. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Matthew Hennessey: The law is the law. If you don’t like it, change it, but don’t expect the cops not to enforce it.

    The idea that police cannot have any discretion when enforcing laws is the same reasoning that gets children arrested for selling lemonade without a business license. It’s a ludicrous idea, IMHO. It’s a eulogy for common sense.

    • #21
  22. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    He died because he resisted arrest, it is just that simple. What possible crime he commited is immaterial to the discussion. When a LEO decides to arrest a person there are only 2 acceptable outcomes from law enforcements point of view. Their arrest or their death. LEOs prefer their arrest since it generates less paperwork and problems with management, but either result is acceptable. What is not acceptable and will not be allowed to happen is a result where the arrestee goes, “hey I don’t want to be arrested today”, and the LEO goes, “in that case go about your business”. I am not sure how/why people do not understand this.

    • #22
  23. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Misthiocracy:

    Matthew Hennessey: The law is the law. If you don’t like it, change it, but don’t expect the cops not to enforce it.

    The idea that police cannot have any discretion when enforcing laws is the same reasoning that gets children arrested for selling lemonade without a business license. It’s a ludicrous idea, IMHO. It’s a eulogy for common sense.

    Sure, they could have chosen to not even interact with the guy. I agree that there should be some discretion. However, once they decide to interact, then the discretion disappears.

    To sum up: Police discretion to initiate enforcement action at all is a good, within limits. Police discretion to abandon a legitimate enforcement action simply because of resistance from the subject is terrible for all involved.

    • #23
  24. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    On the other hand, there’s this, whose point of view I can also understand:

    “Eric Garner died because he decided to demand what should be the first right of any human being in a decent society: the right to peacefully live your life without being molested….

    There lies the litmus test. There are people who think Eric Garner’s resistance means that he’s to blame for how he died. And then there are those of us who think that just might be the most horrifying possible lesson anyone could draw from this terrible story.

    • #24
  25. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Matthew Hennessey:

    Misthiocracy:

    • Urinating in public.
    • Smoking marijuana in public.
    • Drinking alcohol in public.
    • Breaking windows.
    • Three-card monte (i.e. fraud).
    • Vandalizing property with grafitti.
    • Letting violent thugs take over neighbourhoods.
    • Selling untaxed cigarettes.

    One of these things, IMHO, is not like the others.

    Maybe on paper that’s so, but in reality, a guy standing on a street corner selling loose cigarettes is not enhancing the quality of life on that corner and is contributing to the impression that his neighborhood is a lawless place.

    Now, someone will surely reply, “He didn’t deserve to die for it.” To which the only acceptable response is, “Of course not.” But that’s not the full story and it’s wrong to leave it there. That’s what I mean when I say “tendentious obfuscation or opportunistic grandstanding,” which Tom Meyer, Ed. interprets as psychoanalysis.

    This is not about taxes, and saying it is strikes me as opportunistic. The law is the law. If you don’t like it, change it, but don’t expect the cops not to enforce it.

    Yes, we have a system for appealing decisions and hashing out disagreements over law. There are many legitimate, civil responses. Refusing to be arrested by the duly appointed authorities is not one of them.

    • #25
  26. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Owen Findy:On the other hand, there’s this, whose point of view I can also understand:

    “Eric Garner died because he decided to demand what should be the first right of any human being in a decent society: the right to peacefully live your life without being molested….

    …..

    Breaking the duly enacted law doesn’t count as peacefully living your life. If the law is wrong, then there are effective civil ways to respond in our system. If the enforcement was wrong, then there are effective civil ways to respond in our system. Garner seems to have chosen to ignore those peaceful ways in favor of violence.

    • #26
  27. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Ed G.: Garner seems to have chosen to ignore those peaceful ways in favor of violence.

    Have you watched the video?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3ZOu__nVHg

    (Sadly, I can’t find an unedited version…)

    • #27
  28. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Misthiocracy:

    Ed G.: Garner seems to have chosen to ignore those peaceful ways in favor of violence.

    Have you watched the video?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3ZOu__nVHg

    (Sadly, I can’t find an unedited version…)

    Yes, I watched the video.

    What was “leave me alone” request from Garner supposed to have done? Do you think the cops should have complied with that request?

    • #28
  29. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Ed G.: Yes, I watched the video. What was “leave me alone” request from Garner supposed to have done? Do you think the cops should have complied with that request?

    No, I don’t.

    I think piling on the man and putting him in a choke hold when he doesn’t appear to me to be acting violently seems excessive.

    I think there’s got to be another option other than “do nothing” and “tackle and choke”.

    I also fully acknowledge that the video is edited and doesn’t necessarily portray the incident accurately, and that we don’t know what other evidence was seen by the grand jury.

    • #29
  30. user_157053 Member
    user_157053
    @DavidKnights

    Matthew Hennessey:

    Misthiocracy:

    • Urinating in public.
    • Smoking marijuana in public.
    • Drinking alcohol in public.
    • Breaking windows.
    • Three-card monte (i.e. fraud).
    • Vandalizing property with grafitti.
    • Letting violent thugs take over neighbourhoods.
    • Selling untaxed cigarettes.

    One of these things, IMHO, is not like the others.

    Maybe on paper that’s so, but in reality, a guy standing on a street corner selling loose cigarettes is not enhancing the quality of life on that corner and is contributing to the impression that his neighborhood is a lawless place.

    I disagree.  Unlike the other things in the list above, selling loosies in a poor neighborhood probably does enhance the lives of those in the neighborhood who cannot afford to buy a pack of cigs at the outrageously tax inflated prices the city demands.  Also, what were five police officers doing on “loosie” patrol?

    • #30

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