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NYC Police Officers Turn Their Backs on Mayor

After the death of two of their own on the job, New York police officers protest against the city's mayor.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and family

Bill de Blasio marches with his family at New York City rally in 2013.

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On Jan. 4, 2015, thousands of New York City police officers turned their backs when Mayor Bill de Blasio eulogized Officer Wenjian Liu, the officer who had been shot dead along with his partner, Rafael Ramos, while on the job in Brooklyn last month. The back-turning at Liu's funeral came despite New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton urging the officers not to do so.

The previous week, when Mayor de Blasio spoke at the funeral of Officer Ramos, officers could be seen outside the church turning their backs to the large screen broadcasting the service. Officers also turned their backs on de Blasio when he visited the hospital where Liu and Ramos had been pronounced dead.

Rising Tension

The death of the two officers only increased the tension of an already strained relationship between Mayor de Blasio and New York City police unions. Union leaders argue that de Blasio helped create the environment that allowed the two officers to be killed in December by supporting the protests of the deaths of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. According to police, on Saturday afternoon, Dec. 20, 2014, Ismaaiyl Brinsley walked up to the passenger window of a police car and shot Ramos and Liu in the head. Brinsley then ran into a nearby subway station and shot himself. Before the incident, Brinsley had vowed through online posts to put “wings on pigs,” in response to the recent killings of unarmed black men by white police officers.

On Dec. 21, just hours after Liu and Ramos had been killed, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch spoke to reporters outside the hospital where the two officers had died. Lynch said, “There’s blood on many hands tonight. Those that incited violence on the streets under the guise of protest that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated. That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the office of the mayor.”

Mayor Blamed

Others blamed the mayor on social media. This tweet came from the Sergeants Benevolent Association: “The blood of 2 executed police officers is on the hands of Mayor de Blasio. May God bless their families and may they rest in peace.” Former New York Gov. George Pataki tweeted: “Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of #ericholder & #mayorblasio. #NYPD.”

Meanwhile the mayor’s office responded with this statement: “It’s unfortunate that in a time of great tragedy, some would resort to irresponsible, overheated rhetoric that angers and divides people. Mayor de Blasio understands this is the time when we must come together to support the families and friends of those brave officers New York City lost tonight – and the entire NYPD community.” On December 26, a plane flew over New York City carrying this banner behind it: "De Blasio, Our Backs Have Turned to You." Former NYPD officer John Cardillo tweeted a picture of the plane and wrote that a group of retired and current officers paid for the banner. Cardillo also released a statement on the group's behalf, saying that they no longer believe in the mayor's "ability to lead New York City."

Reasons for Anger

The fight between Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Lynch and de Blasio began with the Dec. 3 grand jury decision not to indict the NYPD officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. Several actions by de Blasio have left police unions and officers angry. He has pushed for the hiring an inspector general for the police department and an end racial profiling. He has campaigned to end the use of “stop-and-frisk” tactics. After Garner's death, de Blasio said that he told Dante, his biracial son, to “take special care” when coming across the police. He had Police Commissioner Bratton meet with Rev. Al Sharpton after Garner was killed. Many did not like this move because of Sharpton’s role in organizing recent demonstrations against police brutality. Finally, even though he condemned any act of violence, de Blasio supported the peaceful demonstrations for police reform and the protests’ tagline, “Black lives matter.” A few days before the death of Liu and Ramos, Lynch pushed for police officers to sign a petition asking the mayor not to attend their funerals should they die in the line of duty.

The week after the two police officers were shot and killed in Brooklyn, traffic citations fell by 94%, parking violations were down 92%, and drug arrests were down 84% when compared to the same period the previous year. In early Jan. 2015, Police Commissioner Bratton acknowledged in a press conference that officers had stopped writing tickets and making minor arrests, describing it as a "slowdown" after the two officers were killed in December. "They never stopped working, 911 calls were responded to, arrests continued to be made, crime continued to go down," Bratton said. He mentioned the "extraordinarily stressful situations" that the officers found themselves in during December. He added, "We'll work to bring things back to normal."

Later in Jan., de Blasio spoke publicly about the police officers' behavior. Speaking to reporters at 1 Police Plaza, Mayor de Blasio said that the police officers who turned their back during the funerals of the two slain officers had been “disrespectful to the families who lost loved ones” as well as to the people of New York City. He asked that New Yorkers not be distracted by "disrespectful voices" and focused on the positive news. De Blasio said that the overall crime rate had decreased by 4.6% in 2014, and that last year the city had the fewest number of murders since 1993. He also said, "The people of this city appreciate the police. They see how hard the work is."


—Jennie Wood